Odds and Dead Ends : Scaring Ourselves Silly | Monsters and the Uncanny Valley

We all love a good monster. Be it Godzilla or King Kong, werewolves or cenobites, we can’t get enough of them. Guillermo Del Toro has made a living out of them, and nobody in their right mind would begrudge him that. But when we think of being scared, perhaps what touches the nerves more than anything else are not the big, lumbering beasts towering above us. It’s those fiends that come close to being human, just one step away from actually being us.

This concept is known in the field of robotics as the ‘uncanny valley’. Coined initially by Masahiro Mori, the basic idea of it is that there is a distinct, graph-able curve in people’s emotional responses to the verisimilitude of a robot to people. Essentially, when you start to make a robot look like a person, people view it more favourably. Then, suddenly, as you keep going, there’s a point where it’s not completely robotic, but not completely human, and it’s in this stage when we have a strong feeling of revulsion or disgust. When it gets close to being indistinguishable from us, it becomes so lifelike that we view it favourably again. This dip into disgust is the uncanny valley.

The theory of the uncanny itself was used by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay The Uncanny as a way to explain why we’re so creeped out by dolls and waxwork figures and the likes. He goes back to the original German for uncanny, unheimlich, and its roots in the word heimlich which roughly means to conceal or hide. He proposes that we find something uncanny because it is a revealing of social taboos and ideas which we try to hide in everyday life. This eventually gets linked on to concepts of the id and the subconscious, which is really the subject for another article altogether.

But what does all of this mean for our monsters? How can we link these concepts together in a way that impacts our understanding of our favourite horror villains?

Well perhaps this doesn’t apply for the big Kaiju as such, but maybe it helps explain why we’re still chilled by vampires, ghosts, and ghouls. The brain sees their general shape and recognises them as human, or at least, very human-like. Yet there’s always something just a little bit off, be it the pallor of their skin, or the sharp claws or teeth, which sets them apart and makes them disturbing to us. Going back to Del Toro, think of The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s got a recognisably human shape (based off Saturn in the painting Saturn Devouring His Sun by Francisco Goya), but with the skin stretched over the frame, the nostrils flared with no bridge, claw-like talons, and eyes in his hands. He’s started off human but been warped.

Even cursed or possessed dolls have something off about them; the animation of a human avatar is almost the very concept of the uncanny valley, with the robot being substituted for a doll, but the basic principle remaining. Toys are essentially us, preserved in miniature, and when they rise up against us, the human part of their design strikes a chord with us.

This is perhaps why we find masked killers a distressing concept. The shape is human, and the mask is human-like, but it doesn’t change, and as humans learn to see the face as the main projector of emotion when it doesn’t alter during extreme acts of violence, we slip down the slope of the valley. Masks such as those belonging to Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, fairly blank and devoid of emotion, would, therefore, represent something uncanny. Also very often the mask represents a demon or spirit (thinking of films such as Onibaba or Scream) which conjures up concepts of possession by an unseen force. This might explain why we’re so focused on the killer’s mask in these films, because they are themselves imbued with that uncanny quality which makes them memorable beyond the killer behind them.

Think of the Scream franchise, where the mask comes to represent something much deeper, a force of evil in itself. When you see someone without the mask, they’re normal, but as soon as the face is obscured, they become terrifying, a body for the murderous will of the mask. And the mask and the murderous intent has the power to transfer its ownership from one person to another, like a spirit darting in and out of its possessed victims. Even think of the numerous killers that take on Jigsaw’s role in the Saw films. As soon as you come into possession of Billy, leading the charge of the traps, you become Jigsaw, the embodiment of John Kramer and his will to put people to the test of their drive to survive. We dip from being too human to being something slightly removed.

The idea of the uncanny valley even feeds into ghosts. Think of Kayako and Toshio from the Ju-on films. Though it sounds funny, how many of us were deeply disturbed when Toshio, a pale little boy, opened his mouth and meowed? When Kayako came crawling down the stairs, her throat croaking like a door very slowly opening? This concept of uncanniness transfers over to the sounds we make, affecting us when someone’s voice is not what it should be. This is something obviously well known to anyone who has watched The Exorcist in their time.

And so whilst the big monsters from The Ritual and Cloverfield might scare us, they don’t get anywhere close to instilling that distinct feeling of unease which those humanoid villains which nestle in the uncanny valley have the ability to do. When vampires flash their fangs, with blood in their eyes, we see something hiding inside the human form. When we see Schwarzenegger doing his own repairs in The Terminator, we find lines between humanity and inhumanity blurred. From now on, he looks just like us, but we know he isn’t.

And when we transfer over to imitation narratives such as The Thing or The Body Snatchers, suddenly we’re even more scared, because any one of us could be them. Now the uncanny transfers into paranoia, and we have to rely on looking out for the uncanny to alert us to danger. We have to fall back on something terrifying to keep us calm. In a way, we hope for something uncanny to confirm our fears. And that, more than anything, is scary.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Cloverfield. 2007. [Film] Directed by Matt Reeves. USA: Bad Robot.

Finney, J., 2010. The Body Snatchers. Great Britain: Orion Publishing.

Freud, S., McLintock, D. & Haughton, H., 2003. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin Books.

Friday the 13th. 1980. [Film] Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Unites States of America: Georgetown Productions Inc.

Godzilla. 1954. [Film] Directed by Ishiro Honda. Japan: Toho.

Goya, F., 1819 – 1823. Saturn Devouring His Son. [Art] (Museo del Prado).

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

Ju-On: The Grudge. 2002. [Film] Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Japan: Pioneer LDC.

King Kong. 1933. [Film] Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. USA: RKO Pictures Inc..

Onibaba. 1964. [Film] Directed by Kaneto Shindo. Japan: Kindai Eiga Kyokai.

Pan’s Labyrinth. 2006. [Film] Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Spain: Telecinco Cinema.

Saw. 2004. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: Twisted Pictures.

Scream. 1996. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States: Dimension Films.

The Exorcist. 1973. [Film] Directed by William Friedkin. USA: Hoya Productions.

The Ritual. 2017. [Film] Directed by David Bruckner. UK: The Imaginarium.

The Terminator. 1984. [Film] Directed by James Cameron. United States of America: Hemdale.

 

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Film Review: Scary Stories to be Told In The Dark | A story to be told!

It had been some time since I had read these books, and all the while it hadn’t clicked until I got home. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an honorable adaptation of Alvin Schwartz collection of flash fiction tales, perfectly complimented by Stephen Gammell’s amazing artwork. While the stories themselves are simple enough, able to quench any horror fans quick fix for a chill, they are not without a sense of eeriness, and the transition to the big screen was very well done and deserving.Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

It is a refreshing tale, and a clever blend of the stories contained therein the trilogy Scary Stories. In my opinion, this is a great way to adapt an existing product. While the stories themselves are a series of flash fiction I’d liken to Goosebumps, they act like a bucket of ingredients for the filmmakers to dig in and see what mixes and what doesn’t. The canvas for the film is somewhat generic; though I wouldn’t call them the token group, they are relatively standard. The loner, the outcast, the bullies… the list is familiar, but they are excellent performances delivered by a budding cast with no real major star power to distract. Their talents are allowed to breathe and take hold on their own merit, which I enjoyed very much!

Creative is the keyword here, and this film certainly delivers with some interestingly creepy and cringe-worthy sequences. A few noteworthy mentions I must give are firstly to “Twisty” Troy James! Aptly named, as he took the contorting roll of the Jangly Man to an eye-opening performance! Hell, I wasn’t sure at the time of viewing if that was a person, but knowing that now, it was beyond impressive! The second goes to the segment in “The Red Roomwhich had me wanting to leave the theater. A rather disturbing creature that, well, hugs you to death, ha! You can find this creature in the third book, featured in “The Dream”. This scene was my favorite, well-paced and handled very well. I do wish the rest of the film was handled as such. Slow and quiet, building on the suspense rather than building up to the next jump scare. It got tired after the first few times.

These really are minor gripes that don’t hurt the film too much; it’s pretty clear that this film wasn’t meant to be anything to change the landscape of the genre, it is a perfect end of summer film. At an hour and fifty-one minutes, the pace moves right along feeling nicely wrapped up, at least for this one. No doubt there will be a sequel in the future, rightfully so as there’s so much more material to be mined within the books. I am looking forward to More Scary Stories! Check them out; which stories would you like to see featured in the sequel?

Until next time, this is The Horror Seeker! 

Press Release: Queen Mary Movies (reminder)

Queen Mary’s 2019 Movie Night Summer Series

Presents FREE Outdoor Film Events at the Queen Mary

WHAT:

The Queen Mary is proud to present the 2019 Movie Night Summer Series, welcoming the community to sit back, set up a picnic with friends and family, and soak up the silver screen under the summer night sky. Each movie night will offer guests an immersive cinematic experience with assorted food trucks themed to the film, full bars for those age 21 and over, and the legendary ship and Long Beach Harbor as backdrops. Taking place on select Thursday nights each month May through August and located on a grassy lawn adjacent to the Queen Mary, film titles include Mamma Mia! (2008), a double feature of Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Temple of Doom (1984), Grease (1978), and double feature Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990). The movie nights are open to all ages and free to attend. Date Night Packages are available for $75 per couple and include a reserved couch for two, one bottle of signature Queen Mary Champagne, assorted snacks, and more!

WHEN:

  • August 22, 2019, 6 p.m. – 12 a.m.: Double Feature: Beetlejuice & Edward Scissorhands

WHERE:

The Queen Mary Seawalk (lawn adjacent to the ship)

1126 Queens Hwy, Long Beach, CA., 90802

TICKETS:

General Admission: Free

Date Night Package Upgrade: $75 per couple

PARKING:

$10 per vehicle on-site.

# # #

About the Queen Mary

Located in the Port of Long Beach, the Queen Mary, an Urban Commons property, features a rich maritime history, authentic Art Deco décor, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Long Beach city skyline. At the time of her maiden voyage in May of 1936, she was considered the grandest ocean liner ever built. The Queen Mary’s signature restaurants include Sir Winston’s, Chelsea Chowder House, Promenade Café, Observation Bar, as well as, a weekly award-winning Royal Sunday Brunch served in the ship’s Grand Salon. History buffs enjoy the ship’s museum with various daily tours, and currently, the ship is featuring their newest exhibition, Their Finest Hours: Winston Churchill and the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary features 35,000 square feet of event space in 13 remarkable Art Deco salons as well as a tri-level, 45,000-square- foot Exhibit Hall. The Queen Mary boasts 347 staterooms including nine suites. For more information or for reservations, visit www.queenmary.com or call (800) 437-2934. The Queen Mary is located at 1126 Queens Highway in Long Beach.

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter 7: Willow Creek

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(Editor’s note: This review contains major spoilers.)

The 2013 found-footage horror movie Willow Creek is basically The Blair Witch Project with Bigfoot instead of the witch. Directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, Willow Creek follows couple Jim and Kelly filming their visit to the site of the iconic Patterson-Gimlin video clip that allegedly captured Bigfoot on film in 1967.

Willow Creek

Jim is passionate about Bigfoot, and his girlfriend Kelly goes along for the ride to help him chronicle the adventure. They interview locals before finally entering the famous stretch of forest about halfway through the 80-minute movie.

“Babe, this is a dream I’ve had since I was 8 years old,” Jim says.

Jim’s dream is about to become a nightmare as the couple ventures deeper into the woods. Jim and Kelly set up camp and explore the forest, discovering some unknown scat, before returning to their campsite and finding their tent in shambles.

When darkness falls, Willow Creek spends 20 minutes inside the couple’s tent as Jim and Kelly listen to the strange sounds outside like wood knocks, vocalizations, and heavy footsteps. The extended tent sequence shows Jim and Kelly running the gamut of emotions, from romance to disappointment to terror.

When daylight arrives, the spooked couple decides to return to civilization. Disoriented in the woods, Jim and Kelly hear more vocalizations en route to a frantic and frenetic climax.

I enjoyed Willow Creek because I related to Jim’s enthusiasm for Bigfoot. Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore do an outstanding job of portraying Jim and Kelly as a couple in love but without a lot in common.

Like The Blair Witch Project, Willow Creek is 99 percent setup with a quick, chaotic ending. If you’re expecting to see Bigfoot in action, then you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re a fan of found-footage horror, Willow Creek executes it better than most.

NEXT UP | Chapter Eight: Abominable. I review the 2006 horror film Abominable directed by Ryan Schifrin.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Ciao, Horror!

Ciao, Horror! By Kristin Battestella

These Italian set and produced chills provide retro horror and unique creepiness to spice up your staycation.

Blood and Roses – Mel Ferrer (Falcon Crest) leads this 1960 French/Italian Carmilla influenced production brimming with lovely outdoor locations and lookalike relatives mixing romance and Karnstein history. Though the currently gathered descendants scoff at vampire myths and stories of peasants taking stakes into their own hands centuries ago; familiar names, 500 year old Mircalla voiceovers, and a costume party in a ruined abbey add period piece mood to the modern suits, fifties frocks, and swanky cocktails for a slightly baroque blend. While not as lavish as the later Hammer pictures, this is indeed colorful thanks to quality titular motifs, white wedding dresses, and red fireworks. Peppering creepy words accent the smoke, crosses, tombs, heartbeats, and vampire spirits ready to possess anew. Mirrors, screams, and zooms make for some suspenseful moments – unseen vampire deceptions escalate over the discovery of bodies with neck wounds. However, there is a symbolic sensuality, implied saucy, and very Bava-Esque pretty in the surreal, black and white dream sequence winking with water, sanitariums, naked mannequins, and nurses with bloody hands. It’s a bittersweet, medieval feeling with all kinds of lesbian vampire shade, blonde versus brunette rivalries, and so close you want to be her Single White Female innuendo. Director Roger Vadim (Barbarella) certainly liked his statuesque blondes, and there are fine personality changes for his then-wife Annette Stroyberg (also of Vadim’s Les Liaisons dangereuses) as the bewitching, possessed Carmilla – she’s minuet dancing, can’t work the record player, and horses misbehave around her. Elsa Martinelli (Hatari!) is also divine in several portrait-like stills paralleling Carmilla’s feminine desire to be loved as much as her necessity for blood. Different edited or longer versions affect the plot here, but the dubbed seventy-four minute edition is currently available on Amazon Prime. While it won’t be scary for modern audiences, this sophisticated and creepy but no less tender tale is impressive and worth seeing.

The Church – Three films claim to be Demons 3 in the somewhat confusing Italian Demoni series. Fortunately, this 1989 Dario Argento produced stand alone sequel opens with galloping knights versus witches, scary organ music, demonic signs, prophecy, torches, and head chopping slaughter. So what if it is kind of small scale, the helmets look like spray painted buckets, and kids literally have baskets on their heads! Crosses, stonework, church bells, Gothic spires, and gargoyles bring the medieval ecclesiastic yet sinister atmosphere to the modern day prayers, Biblical quotes, maze-like catacombs, and dusty library tomes. The titular temple was built to sanctify mass burials and keep evil caged below, and the tale sticks almost exclusively to the sanctuary setting as Indiana Jones temptations for buried treasure lead to coded parchments, architectural clues, suspicious altar sounds, and ghostly horses. A crusty old bishop, the new librarian reading backwards Latin, an art restorer cleaning morbid murals, the rebellious custodian’s daughter – innuendo, icky saucy, and nasty behaviors increase as evil seeps out over this interesting variety of trapped people also including a school trip, one bickering old couple, and a couture photo shoot. Even dripping water becomes suspect once the bloody spouts, blue smoke, booby traps, gruesome deaths, and reptilian hands spread evil manifestations and infestations. Frightening confessions, decaying bodily possessions, literal bleeding hearts – today’s audiences may not appreciate the slow burn one by one, but knowing it is just a matter of when adds to the robes, stained glass, rituals, and chanting. How can one fight the bestial Satan when he’s entered the hallowed itself? Although the past and present connections can be confusing and remain unexplained beyond a happened before and will again warning, the skeletons, gory bodies, wings, and horns make for a very wild finale. This picture is not shy with its imagery nor its parallels – the demons only escape because human corruption was already there, using unleashed horrors to remind us that it’s safer to leave well enough alone. 


The Ghost – Skulls, storms, candles, deathbed cripples and melancholy music to match immediately set the Gothic mood and Scotland 1910 period stylings of this colorful 1963 Italian haunt starring Barbara Steele (Black Sunday). The dubbing is off kilter – the occasional dubbed Scottish accent is especially bemusing – and the innate video quality isn’t the best. However, syringes, séances, poisons, and risky medical research mixed with black magic possibilities add to the up to no good atmosphere and twilight surreal. Illicit meetings, gin, revolvers, straight razors – the scheming lovers are getting desperate and antsy waiting for those in the way to die. Steele is divine in white furs and lace to start before switching to black mourning veils for the reading of the will. It’s tough not to hear her voice, but some sensuous melodrama accents the suspenseful tone, tolling bells, howling dogs, and foreboding Psalm 23. Is the missing key to the safe in the dead and buried’s coat pocket? Eerie sounds, shadows, and wheelchairs moving on their own escalate to ghostly callings and spooky music box playing while the hysterics, a suspect housekeeper, and creepy apparitions intensify the macabre treasure hunt even when there is only one person onscreen. Contemporary viewers may find the ninety-five minutes slow, and this is rough around the edges – a derivative scandal and haunting that should have been tighter. Too many late but wait there’s more twists border on preposterous, yet the increasingly trippy specters do make for a few surprises. The audience dislikes the phantom, but turnabout upon the adulterers is fair play with chilling irony, mysticism, double crossings, crypts, and coffins. We know a set up is coming, but it’s tense good fun in getting there thanks to some ambient captions such as “Sound of someone knocking,” “Creaking Door,” “Sound of Footsteps,” and “Clap of Thunder.” Oh yeah. 

Macabre – It’s murder and passion via New Orleans in this atmospheric 1980 Italian swanky from director Lamberto Bava. The colorful locale is part of the plot with river boats, historic architecture, street corner jazz, and romantic melodies. The lush décor is both tacky seventies with velvet curtains and tawny patinas as well as of old thanks to gilded wallpaper, candelabras, and cluttered antiques. Cigarettes, cocktails, and pearls set off the easy to slip out of satin as illicit phone calls make mom leave the kids to babysit themselves during her dalliance. Moaning and heavy panting overheard by the white knuckled blind neighbor are intercut with child terrors, bathtub horrors, shattered glass, bloody beams, and vehicular shocks before an institution stay and return to the love nest becomes suspicious self love with altars to the deceased, ghostly footsteps, and unseen phantom encounters. Through the banister filming, windows, mirrors, and similar posturing add to the naughty mother and creepy daughter duplicity while our blind virginal musical instrument repair man must listen to the saucy and toot his own horn, so to speak, as the silent awkwardness and martini music provide emotion with little dialogue. The narrative may over-rely on the score, meandering on the pathetic situation too much, but there’s enough weirdness balancing the mellow thanks to the cruel temptations and nasty bedroom suggestions as white negligees become black sheers and candlelit interiors darken. The effortless jazz switches to pulsing, scary beats as some serious unexplained ghost sex, undead voodoo, or other unknown witchcraft escalates the decapitation innuendo and like mother, like daughter warped. Our blind audience avatar hides to not be seen, others unseen can sneak passed him, and we’re all unable to see behind closed doors – layering the suspense, voyeurism, and two fold bizarre amid bedroom shockers, ominous tokens, overcast cemeteries, and one locked refrigerator. The saucy, nudity, and gore are adult sophisticated without being vulgar in your face tits and splatter a minute like today, and tense toppers don’t have to rely on fake out scares. Granted, there are timeline fudges, some confusion, and laughable parts. It’s probably obvious what’s happening to most viewers, yet we’re glued to the screen nonetheless with ironic puns, turnabouts, kitchen frights, and titular twists. I guess edible and sexual horrors don’t mix!

For more Foreign Horror Treats, check out Our Mario Bava Essentials!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Gods of Egypt

Too Many Glaring Marks Hamper Gods of Egypt (not just the White Washing)

by Kristin Battestella

Thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) helps the exiled god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) reclaim his Eye from the evil God of the Desert Set (Gerard Butler) in order to save his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from the underworld. Along the way, both mortals and gods face several fantastical obstacles and adventures as they seek the help of Ra (Geoffrey Rush). Unfortunately, thanks to an abundance of poor pacing and inferior special effects that can’t compensate for the muddled storytelling, pondering mythology, and misguided point of view; the whitewashing controversy from director Alex Proyas’ (The Crow) 2016 Gods of Egypt is just one of many problems.

An opening prologue and panoramic special effects are nothing but empty show when Gods of Egypt needed to start its story with either the gods themselves or the mortal quest. Instead, the omnipresent narration from our thief knows more about the gods then they do, leaving the tale padded with messy embellishments, unreliability excuses, superfluous scenes, and epic fakery. Assassination coups in front of the gasping crowd seem more like a play the gods put on for mere mortals – CGI gold birds and black jackals parkour in a reason-less fight because Gods of Egypt didn’t begin at the right point in the story and then compounds the timeline further by restarting a year later. Transparent graphics and always on the move cameras call attention to themselves – every scene is panning and sweeping with people coming or going but the visual distractions don’t disguise the muddled storytelling or the jarring, unrealistic, embarrassing, and noticeably pale casting. Poor writing from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (of Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter infamy) likewise dumbs down the mythical and over-relies on effects rather than explaining its world or developing any characters – leaving Gods of Egypt a loosely strung together montage of random cool scenes featuring a magic carpet ride spaceship, underworld deserts, serpents chases, temple gauntlets, and talking rock monsters. It takes an hour for the mortal to round up the gods for some risky mission…because they couldn’t unite and do it themselves? What should be a straightforward quest treads tires thanks to a lot of walking here or there with no idea where the inept heroes are going or why. Viewers can’t take the fantastic risks seriously amid the quips, cliches, and convenient in the nick of time actions leaving no weight or consequences. Serious deaths are short or quickly forgotten unless there’s a need for underworld special effects, which kind of copy Lord of the Rings. Are they trying to get back Horus’ Eye? Are they trying to save the gal who’s actually doing alright in the underworld? Are they trying to stop Set from being badass? Whatever the messy crusade, a literal deus ex machina from Ra leaves no point to it any of it.

Apparently, personal vengeance isn’t enough motivation for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Horus. After he’s usurped, he drinks over it until our thief comes along to inspire him to make jokes while running away from CGI serpents. There’s no room to breathe life into the character, and despite this apparent star vehicle, there’s more for Nikolaj fans on Game of Thrones. Gerard Butler (300) has a great introduction as Set, but when he opens his mouth that lovely Scottish lilt becomes laughably out of place. His scenes seem like they are from a different movie, and Set only interacts with everyone else in a few scenes. For supposedly being the villain who rules over all in fear, most of Set’s speeches are sarcastic quips on said badassery, and he doesn’t actually do a whole lot beyond changing what he wants and why from scene to scene. Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) is a thief but also a lover – a blasé cool cat who thinks he’s better than the gods. Bek’s narrative frame and speaking out loud when he’s alone is purely to hit the audience on the head, and it’s the wrong perspective on the story for us to follow him. Bek’s stealing the Eye of Horus for his dead babe is a more important story than the vengeful gods? Really? This entire storyline could have been red penciled to strengthen the core, for rather than any god realizing his humanity redemption arc, the story unbelievably bends to suit Bek’s good at everything Mary Sue. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) as Thoth – the God of Wisdom who’s more camp like Vanity Smurf rather than clever – appears once an hour in Gods of Egypt to kneel to the white people and joke about liking big butts and he cannot lie. Yes, seriously. Horus’ lover Hathor is played by Elodie Young (Daredevil), and she looks too young indeed as she easily passes between the gods to help or hinder when convenient. Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) likewise wears inaccurate but skin bearing costumes as the sacrificial girlfriend used for man pain, and Bek isn’t even that broken up over her because he can talk to her in the underworld and really just wants to trick the gods into bringing her back. Rufus Sewell (Tristan and Isolde) is here too as Set’s creeper architect, and Geoffrey Rush’s (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) Ra is some kind of Lear meets Gandalf because the all seeing, all knowing ruler of all Egypt above and below is an old, bald, white guy. Gods of Egypt has a large and big name ensemble that deserved more but unfortunately, everyone here is hopelessly out of place.

Gods of Egypt has epic music, fiery motifs, giant gods, and traditional Egyptian iconography. The picture is bright and colorful with golden palaces and steamy reds. Unfortunately, all the sweeping comes in wide pans and distance shots. The chariot escapes, fatal arrows, fake jungles, and slow motion is downright laughable, and Gods of Egypt will look very, very bad within five years thanks to the poor graphics. It’s obvious these visuals, regal dangers, and any sexiness are toned down for mainstream appeal, but the overdone CGI close-ups make it seem as if all the people were filmed at different times and then inserted into the frame together. Slowed panoramas show one good action move, but then the rest of the fight choreography is a whole lot of nothing leaps or parry embellishments. People fly through the air or slam against the walls as the camera follows their swoops up, down, or sideways, and it all makes Gods of Egypt look too fake and fantastic – doubly so when again considering how the point of view unevenly or conveniently goes back and forth between mortals experiencing the fantastic and gods coming down from high. The eponymous folks die pretty darn easy and the Mary Sue nobodies achieve some really unbelievable feats! If every slow motion moment spectacle was cut from Gods of Egypt, you’d save fifteen minutes, no lie, as the continued over-reliance on special effects borders on a partially animated feature culminating in big battles and more slow motion falling without the people or gods having learned a thing. I want to skip over all the weak incidental CGI transitions, which can’t build a world better than the simplicity of courtly strife nor compensate for the poor storytelling.

Had Gods of Egypt been firm in its own myth and magic and took a stance on whether this was going to be about gods or men, it might have been really cool. Instead, the picture is presented from the wrong perspective at the wrong point in the story and doesn’t put on the right point of view thanks to graphics being more important than the personal quest making it impossible to suspend viewer belief. Gods of Egypt’s two hours plus never develops the world into one deserving of that time and remains ridiculously overlong for a thrill ride action adventure. Embarrassingly white, modern, and out of place people contribute to the glaring storytelling problems. Rather than any rewrite clarification on its mythology or a more multi-ethnic cast, Gods of Egypt underestimates our knowledge of omnipresent Egyptian lore with its superficial spectacle bang for its blockbuster buck, expecting viewers to go along with the poor slight of hand when 300 (which Hollywood is apparently still trying to recreate) and Stargate did it better. Unfortunately, Gods of Egypt is painfully unaware that the audience won’t sit still for frustratingly bad visuals, jarring whitewashing, noticeable movie machinations, and no clear story.

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter 6: Big Legend

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(Editor’s note: This review contains major spoilers.)

The 2018 horror film Big Legend, written and directed by Justin Lee, is a no-frills creature feature, meaning diehard Bigfoot fans should enjoy the 89-minute ride. I know I did.

Big Legend

Set in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Big Legend opens with couple-in-love Tyler and Natalie about to embark on a camping trip. Tyler (Kevin Makely) is a former soldier and hopes to make the excursion extra special for sweet Natalie (Summer Spiro).

However, romance transforms into tragedy during the first night. Natalie hears wood knocks and guttural growls outside their tent. Tyler leaves to investigate, a decision he’ll regret for the rest of his life. Some kind of beast grabs the tent and drags it along with Natalie into the darkness where she disappears.

Twelve months later, Tyler is dealing with survivor’s guilt on his final day in a psychiatric ward. He tells psychiatrist Dr. Wheeler that he believes Natalie was attacked by a bear although her body has never been found. Amanda Wyss portrays Dr. Wheeler. You may remember her as the iconic Tina Gray in the body bag, Fred Krueger’s first victim in the 1984 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Tyler doesn’t really believe Natalie’s disappearance is bear-related, and the anguished soldier discusses his decision to search for Natalie with his mother Rita. It’s the most heartfelt scene in Big Legend. Rita is portrayed beautifully and too briefly by another horror icon, Adrienne Barbeau. You may remember her as radio DJ Stevie Wayne in the 1980 horror film The Fog.

The authorities drop off a box of items, including Natalie’s digital camera, left behind at the campsite after the attack a year ago. Tyler starts flicking through the photographs and stops at a random picture with a shadowy figure lurking in the background. That was my favorite moment in Big Legend. It was perfectly eerie.

His suspicions almost confirmed, Tyler loads up his gear and returns to the scene of the Bigfoot crime. During his search for answers, Tyler encounters another hunter named Eli, portrayed by character actor Todd A. Robinson.

Bigfoot is protective of his territory, and the human duo faces off against the beast in a tense showdown that had me flashing back to the 1987 sci-fi horror film Predator when Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) tires of being the hunted and decides to challenge the alien.

The most important feature of a Bigfoot movie is the Bigfoot, and I’m pleased to report the makeup department of Angela Bulmer and Jill Colwell do a commendable job. Bigfoot looked suitably savage and realistic enough to me.

I recommend Big Legend to those of us who enjoy an outing with Bigfoot. It’s a gritty little movie with big aspirations. Seeing Wyss and Barbeau on the screen again after so many years was an unexpected delight. There’s even a cameo by horror icon Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead, Aliens) who drops by at the end to introduce an interesting twist to the story.

 

NEXT UP | Chapter Seven: Willow Creek. I review the 2013 horror film Willow Creek written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.

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LINKS TO PREVIOUS CHAPTERS OF THE BIGFOOT FILES:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Four: The Road Best Not Taken

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Five: Wood Ape