Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lamenting (While Appreciating) Television's New Golden Age

Things are pretty good when your biggest complaint is that you've been too busy to write a blog for 3 months. Sorry about that.

Unfortunately being busy, and especially my wife's being busy, has meant that my DVR is full to bursting with shows I am weeks or months behind. Of course, we didn't skip "everything" - still make sure we keep up with Game of Thrones and Hannibal, and before that The Walking Dead and True Detective

Sometime in the near future, the Dark Discussions podcast is planning on doing a Breaking Bad episode. Timely, right? For some reason, Phil never watched the show until recently, and now that he's all caught up, and caught up quickly, he's anxious to talk about it. Me too. It is a great show, perhaps even the all time greatest, and one whose success was only possible in this modern era.

The ever fracturing market has dramatically lowered the threshold for success, allowing niche shows - like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead and Hannibal - to survive. Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services then allow them to find a wider audience and actually build a following from year to year. This is completely antithetical to pre-streaming patterns, in which most shows started with their largest ratings, and slowly watched them decline until cancellation fell upon them, whether it be in season 2 or 12.

So we really are living in a Golden Age for television. It has easily surpassed the cinema as a writer's medium (if you haven't seen it yet, please catch Sundance's The Writer's Room, now in its second season - the first is naturally streaming on Netflix), and even mediocre shows are easily superior to those of the Three's Company era. And viewers not only have a wealth of series to choose from, catering to all varieties of tastes (or lack thereof), but they can watch it when they want, where they want, how they want. Really this is an embrassment of riches.

So this is where the bitching comes in. I wrote the above because I wanted to make it clear that I really do appreciate this television renaissance. But with this cornucopia, I feel that we have lost something, specifically the water cooler.

I mentioned how my wife and I were, despite our schedules, make an effort to keep up with Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and others, and the reason is social. Sure these are series we enjoy, but more importantly, these are series we enjoy talking about. We discuss them with each other, with coworkers, with friends, on Facebook. We can't do that if we haven't seen them. Hell, Monday morning Facebook is a spoiler minefield. You see constant brushfires on message boards because someone accidentally spoiled something that happened the night before, while half the readers are waiting until they can binge view the blu-rays.

And this is what I miss. The idea of television as a social event, especially the choice series that have grabbed the public mind the way Thrones and Dead have. Shows like Seinfeld and Lost were appointment viewing, because we didn't have Netflix and DVRs, and we all knew everyone would be talking about the latest episode the next day. Now, after a major character dies on Game of Thrones, you're afraid to mention it until someone has given you the "all-clear".  On-demand binge viewing has great benefits, but it has really put a crimp in the tv devotees social experience (at least with real people, not digitized "friends").

And while I'm bitching about my gift horse, can I also say I am sorry to see how binge viewing has taken away the appreciation of a good cliffhanger. Too often I hear people say that they don't want to have to wait week to week, to agonize in anticipation. I find that sad. Remember this:


Arguably the highlight of the entire series, made even more memorable by the week of speculation that followed. How effective would that have been if we only had to wait 20 seconds for the next episode to boot up in our queue? The final season (or second half of the final season) of Breaking Bad was a masters class in tension but I really wonder how much a person can appreciate its construction without having to suffer that week between initial viewings.

The first episode of the second season of House of Cards ends on a big twist, the sort of thing that you immediately want to talk to someone about. Except, the next episode is already on the tv. And this is a Netflix show, so it doesn't have a scheduled air time, so you also have no idea if anyone watched it. Go to work the next day and ask if anyone saw it, most likely no one even knew it was up yet. If they had seen it, they'd already moved on and were pondering the events of episode 4. I have to wonder why in the world the writers bother sticking with conventional episode structure.

Again, these are minor kvetches in the middle of a glorious revolution. I'm glad I have my drug dealing school teachers, zombies, dragons and lecherous ad men on tv, and I'm even glad that others have their duck callers, dancing stars and wacky sitcom families. But I can appreciate all that we have while still lamenting the things we seem to be losing.




Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014's Most Anticipated Genre Movies (part 2)

Continuing from part 1

#8. Big Bad Wolves (January)
Kalvet (Rabies) was my #2 horror movie for 2012, and gave us a solid episode of Dark Discussions. Big Bad Wolves is the sophomore film for writing-directing team Aharon Keshales and Narot Papushado, who at the very least showed a talent for creating effective scares and kills in their first outing. It hit several top 10 lists in 2013 (including a #1 ranking but Quentin Tarantino), and those of us who missed it on the festival circuit will soon be able to catch it at home.


#9. Sacrament (May)
Ti West and Eli Roth team up to bring us this tale of cannibal religious cultists. I get that some may see this pairing as unholy, but I've already gone on record supporting Roth, and I am no less a fan of Ti West. True, his films make the typical slow burn look like a raging inferno, so I can see them not working for everyone (indeed DDP co-host Phil loathes The Innkeepers),  but this time West is working with Roth to make something more palatable for a broad audience. Will it work? Will it fail? Will I see it? Hell yes.


#10. Tusk (TBD)
Let's roll with the controversial filmmakers and drag in Kevin Smith. He's very hit and miss for me, at times witty and insightful, and others smug and insufferable, but I can't deny I enjoy Red State more than I expected to. This time he's jumping into body horror, which I've discovered creeps me out more than other. I don't know if he's going for laughs or scares, but the one piece of production art that's been released already gave me quivers.

#11. Horns (November)
Alexander Aja and Daniel Radcliff team up for this adaptation of Joe Hill's hit novel. Aja is one of my favorite horror directors right now, consistently surpassing my expectations with films like Piranha 3D and The Hills Have Eyes. Radcliffe is doing all he can to put Harry Potter behind him, and with this, Woman In Black and Frankenstein he seems to have embraced the horror genre. Wonder if they can bump this up a few weeks for Halloween?

#12. Interstellar (November)
There is probably no one bigger in Hollywood right now than Christopher Nolan, and that Dark Knight/Inception money will ensure that he'll get any project greenlit for the rest of the decade. So now that he can do whatever he wants, what has he done? No one knows for sure except that its about space travel. The enigmatic trailer didn't shed much light, but then mystery worked very well for Inception. But really they had me at Chris Nolan, so take my money already.

#13. Guardians of the Galaxy (August)
I'm still amazed at the wealth of comic book films coming out these days, but even with Spider-Man and Cap returning, my most anticipated was a toss up between Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past, but the mutant franchise is an old friend at this point, and no matter how ambitious, can't tickle my curiousity like the latest entry from Marvel Films. The merits of the Marvel movies are debatable, but their success is undeniable. While many saw second-tier heroes like Thor and Iron Man as long shots, Guardians has to be their biggest gamble yet. The Marvel Universe casts a wide and weird net that I'm not sure mainstream audiences are ready for, but Marvel is (again) going against convention and going with the bizarre. Say what you will about the B-levelness of Iron Man and Thor, at least most people had heard of them. The Guardians are barely third rate heroes, and Green Lantern would have most studios running fast from cosmic comics. Yet here Marvel is, taking a film starring the chubby clown from Parks and Rec, teaming him up a green woman, a blue archer, a talking tree, and a gun-toting raccoon inspired by a Beatles tune, and handing the whole package over to the director of Slither and Super. It's like Kevin Feige did this on a dare. Regardless, this is going to be a key entry in Marvel's "second wave", and I would love to see them pull it off.


#14. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July)
I am an unabashed fan of the Apes franchise, which I think is too often overlooked for its kitsch factor (you can hear more on this topic in the rough, early episodes of Dark Discussions). Rise was an unexpected surprise three years ago, handling the franchise with respect and intelligence, and giving real heart to the new Caesar. Andy Serkis thankfully returns, and while I was at first sorry to see Rupert Wyatt go, I was even more excited to see Cloverfield and Let Me In director Matt Reeves step in. The new cast, headlined by Gary Oldman, looks to be an upgrade in every way, and with a probable war between apes and the surviving humans, this could be an even darker entry for the franchise. But then I would be first in line to see this if Uwe Boll was making it for Asylum.


So those are my most anticipated films for 2014. What are yours?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014's Most Anticipated Genre Movies part 1

The Dark Discussions Podcast will soon be doing its annual year-in-preview episode, and we hope to have the 2014 installment a bit better focused than 2013's rambling marathon. To that end, I've taken a break from finishing my 2013 list to look down the road, and choose the 14 genre films (i.e. horror, fantasy or science fiction) that I am most interested to see. These may not end up being the best of the year, but they are the ones that have my curiosity piqued.

In no particular order:

#1. Knights of Badassdom (January)
Tyrion Lannister, River Tam, Jason Stackhouse, Abed, and DJ Davis fight a she-demon? That's all I needed to hear. Directed by Joe Lynch, who did the ridiculously over-the-gory-top Wrong Turn 2, this shows us what happens when a group of LARPers accidentally upset the Renn-Faire by summoning a real demon. Should be a fun way to start the year.

#2. The Jungle (TBD)
Nature-horror is one of my favorite sub-genres, and Andrew Traucki's Black Water and The Reef are two of its finest entries. This time he goes first-person (which, when well done, I am still a sucker for), following a group of conservationists trying to find the elusive Javan Leopard. I am sure that all goes well.

#3. Willow Creek (Spring?)
Speaking of first-person nature horror, how about a bobcat? I am speaking of course about comedian Bob Goldthwait, whose gone from being that guy who screamed in the Police Academy films to one of our most interesting directors. World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America were deliciously black comedies, and I can't wait to see what he does with the horror genre. Word from the festival circuit is that he's finally made a good, funny and scary bigfoot film.

#4. Green Inferno (September)
OK, let's stick with environmentalists in danger of being eaten, this time by Eli Roth. I know some hate the guy, but I am an unapologetic fan. Roth has an unbridled enthusiasm for the genre, and his films (Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel II) consistently made me squirm. It has been too long since he sat in the director's chair, and I'm hoping his Cannibal Holocaust-inspired serves up some gruesome dishes.





#5. Godzilla (May)
It isn't easy being green. Perhaps the ultimate statement in environmental horror, the great Japanese icon celebrates his 60th anniversary with his biggest film to date. Hopefully enough time has passed for audiences to forget his last visit to the states, because all the pieces are lined up to make a terrific monster film. Director Gareth Edwards' Monster was a thoughtful brush up against the giant monster genre, one which I dug but disappointed those wanting more kaiju carnage. This time he has the money and tools to wreak havoc across the globe, and he's bringing red-hot Bryan Cranston along for his first post-Breaking Bad role. When the teaser played in front of The Hobbit , a small voice behind me squeaked in awe "I want to see Godzilla...." Me too, kid.




#6. RoboCop (February)
The most hated movie no one has seen since World War Z, fans have been determined to kill this reboot in its crib. I get the love for the original, but Peter Weller ain't donning that hot, heavy costume at his age, and the later entries (which included a children's cartoon for godssake!) steered the franchise into a deep gulch. As a 27-year old  politically minded action-science fiction tale, this seems to be exactly the type of franchise we should be rebooting. The original is very much mired in its time (whether that's good or bad is up to you), and the modern world is not short of issues that could use satirizing. Plus technology, and our relationship to technology, has changed greatly. What rang true to me in 1987 would not be remotely familiar to the 17 year olds of today. Sure, I'll miss the hard-R rating, but so much else offers promise. The film's director, Jose Padhila, may be a newcomer to us, but his Elite Squad was one of Brazil's most popular films, and well reviewed to boot. And the cast is phenomenal - The Killing's Joel Kinnaman is a great choice to step into Murphy's shoes, and he'll be backed up by Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Sam Jackson, Jackie Earl Haley and Michael K Williams. Sure it could very well suck, but I can't wait to see how those pieces all fit together.

#7. Transcendence (April)
The box office for Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger indicate that audiences have grown tired of Johnny Depp, but whether he succeeds or fails, I find him interesting. Here he plays a scientist who is forced to upload his mind into a computer after a terrorist attack. What happens next? Who knows, but I'm hoping for a modern take on Colossus: The Forbin Project. At the very least it will look pretty, as it is the first feature directed by Wally Pfister, Chris Nolan's long-time cinematographer (Pfister also brought along Nolan stalwarts Morgan Freeman and Cilian Murphy for good measure).

#8-14 will be posted on Wednesday, January 8th  can be read here!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013's Best Dark Discussions

2013 is a year I will be happy to be rid of. Yes, I grant that it is naive, foolish and superstitious to place any emphasis on a largely arbitrary calendar turn, but for once I will bow to the convention and flip the year the finger as it recedes in the rear view mirror. My normal procrastinatious (well it should be a word) tendencies were compounded by various work, family, feline and health related stresses, which is why I haven't written anything these past six months.

And so it is that I am even more grateful than ever for those fans who support the Dark Discussions podcast (whether that it because of or in spite of my efforts remains a mystery). For a couple of hours every week or two I can set aside the rest of the world and just chat with friends and fellow fans. It has been my pleasure to be a regular contributor since Phillip Peron invited me aboard for episode 6 back in 2011, and its a bit of a surprise to see us going strong 2 and half year later, creeping up on episode 125.

In recognition of the show, I thought I'd take a moment to dwell on the positives, and pull out my five favorite episodes from 2013 (listed chronologically). All episodes feature myself, Phil Peron, and Eric Webster (also host of the excellent Askancity podcast). While Abe Spinney became a regular co-host later in the year, he didn't feature in any of the five I picked as my favorites. That should not be seen as a reflection on Abe, and you "reely" should check out his reviews at http://aspinney-reelermoviereviews.blogspot.com/ .

Mike's Five Favorite Dark Discussions Podcasts of 2013:

Episode 97: Evil Dead (2013)
http://darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_097.html 
Controversy is good for ratings, or so they say, and this provided plenty of fodder. It started even before the podcast, with Phil exploding on the film on our Facebook page (we normally hold back out thoughts until we've done the episode). Author MJ Preston (The Equinox) came aboard to pile on the remake, and when the real Ice Road Trucker kicks a film, he does it hard and with steel toed boots. Without question this was our hottest topic of the year.


Episode 100: The Exorcist
http://darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_100.html
It's my wife Pam's favorite movie, a benchmark episode for the podcast, and prompted DD UberFan Michelle Barkely to unintentionally launch the Great LaserDisc Quest. It is always nice to revisit a classic, and one this rich gave us plenty to chew on. Once again, author MJ Preston joins in the fun.

Episode 103: World War Z
http://darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_103.html
Noteworthy for being the first (and to date only) gathering of the Dark Discussions hosts. We had been talking for almost two years and finally got the chance to meet each other in the flesh. Perhaps those good feelings colored our opinions of the film, which we all seemed to enjoy more than the other reviewers. Recorded "live and on location" immediately after viewing the film, it captures one of the better days from 2013. As a bonus, Pam gets to join in as a guest host.

Episode 108: The Conjuring
http://darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_108.html 
Author Kristi Peterson Schoonover returns to Dark Discussions and brings along her husband Nate, podcaster and Demon Hunter. They add much needed balance to the skeptical views of DD's regular hosts, and really enriched the discussion about a fine film and the events that inspired them.

Episode 120: Gremlins
http://darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_120.html  
I don't know if this episode is as fun to listen to as it was to record, but it was a great walk down memory lane for the DD hosts - a long, winding walk that often went off the beaten path. Kristi joins us again to discuss Disney, Speilberg, the 80s, and occasionally the Joe Dante classic.


All in all it was a good year for the podcast, and I again want to thank our fans for supporting us. Special thanks as well to my wife for making the Monster Mania episode possible (http://darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_109.html), and to Frederic Dominguez for inviting me to cohost the Man of Steel episode of Dirty Bay Horror.

Dark Discussions home page: http://darkdiscussions.com/default.html
Eric Webster's Askancity Podcast: http://askancity.com/
MJ Preston's Page: http://mjpreston.net/
Kristi Peterson Schoonover's Page: http://kristipetersenschoonover.com/
Nate Schoonover's Page: http://ghostanddemon.com/

Monday, June 24, 2013

Yes Virginia, Zombies DO Run

I was thinking of writing a review of World War Z, but if you're interested you can hear all my (generally positive) thoughts in the forthcoming, very special episode of the Dark Discussions Podcast. Instead, let me address something that's been bugging me for some time now: what a zombie is or is not. Specifically, I'm getting tired of the Zombie Authority telling me exactly what a zombie can and can not do.

Ever since breaking out into the public consciousness a decade or so ago, there have been self-appointed keepers of the Zombie Faith telling the rest of us what does and does not qualify as a zombie and, by association, a zombie story. I first took note of it with the releases of 28 Days Later  and Resident Evil 4, and it continues today. The latest whipping boy is World War Z, which has elicited complains about zombies running, swarming, climbing and having a hive mind (which they don't in the film, but that's another story. Go listen to the podcast).

1) There is no agreed upon definition of what a zombie is.  Go check a dictionary. You'll get a reference to voodoo zombies, to the popular drink, and some vague definition of people that behave in a mindless way.

2) Zombies aren't zombies. All good zombie nerds already know this - What Romero created were ghouls, the living dead, or, going by NOTLD's original title, "flesh-eaters." He didn't use the term in the film, and didn't use it until years later. The zombie label was slapped on by fans (or perhaps critics) of the film and it stuck. Sadly the zombie nerd authority wasn't around back then to declare that "zombies don't eat people" or "zombies don't act independently" or "zombies aren't brought back to life by space radiation."

3) Mythologies Evolve. Everyone knows that werewolves are created when a poor soul is bitten by one. Except that was never part of the lore until The Wolf Man popularized it. For that matter, most werewolves were wolves, not men with dog masks. The same goes for vampires turning into bats, something that got incorporated into the mythos after vampire bats were discoved in the new world. Before Karloff donned the makeup, Frankenstein's monster not only wasn't mute, he had a vocabulary that would shame most Princeton grads. The point being, none of these things are real. They are all made up, and the rules governing them are too.

4) Even Romero got zombies "wrong". At least according to the Zombie Authorities. Night of the Living Dead gave us fast (if not running) zombies and zombies that used tools. Tool use and learned behavior were further worked into the series with each new installment. Return of the Living Dead, by Romero's NOTLD partner, gave us zombies that not only ran, they talked, they planned, they strategized. Oh and they were the first zombies to ask for "braaaiinns", some 17 years after the modern zombie first appeared. Try making Return today and Russo would get some hefty citiations from the ZA.

The modern zombie is a fairly new monster - newer than aliens, newer than kaiju, newer even than killer robots. The zombie genre is busting open wide and, despite the insistence of critics, shows no signs of slowing down. It is a shame that at a time when horror films struggle to find an audience, so many fans are trying to stifle a flourishing genre.

List of Things Zombies Do
Stand
Walk
Run
Crawl
Dance
Drive
Ride horses
Use Tools
Learn
Love
Eat anything
Eat only people
Eat only brains
Don't eat
Display emergent behaviors
Think
Talk
Socialize
Herd
Mow lawns
Serve dinner Die from head tauma only
Die from any old trauma
Die from total destruction of body
Die by filling mouth with salt and sewing it closed
Get made by space radiation
Get made by viruses
Get made by government chemicals
Get made by ancient curses
Flash mob
Shop (during a Christmas themed zombie flash mob)
Shoot guns
Cunnilingus


Saturday, June 8, 2013

100 Reasons Why I Am a Horror Movie Fan



In honor of Dark Discussions 100th episode (released last week), I thought I'd come up with a list of 100 reasons why I am a fan of horror movies.This list was pretty much stream of consciousness - there is no significance to the order. Also it is far from exhaustive. I could have added plenty more quotes, scenes, film titles, and filmmakers, plus I didn't even touch on the awesome scores. 


  1. My parents had a poor understanding of “age appropriate.”
  2. Nothing better than hiding under the covers…
  3. …especially if its with someone special.
  4. Horror movies are less scary than the real world.
  5. The Universal Monsters
  6. Kaiju
  7. “Here’s Johnny!”
  8. We are one big, freaky community.
  9. Scared shitless is a universal language.
  10. All the weird creepy shit from Japan.
  11. Korea, too.
  12. “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
  13. The Indianapolis speech.
  14. The Blob
  15. Slow zombies.
  16. Fast zombies.
  17. Stupid zombies.
  18. Clever zombies.
  19. Dead zombies.
  20. Infected zombies.
  21. Voodoo zombies.
  22. Rob Zombie.
  23. Chiller Theater.
  24. Halloween (the movie)
  25. Halloween (the holiday)
  26. Killer Santas.
  27. Severed head cunniligus.
  28. “They’re here!”
  29. 3D phallic fish food.
  30. Shameless hucksterism.
  31. They bother all the right people.
  32. We crown prom queen’s with pig’s blood.
  33. Kathy Bates at the foot of the bed. With a hammer.
  34. Nicholson, Coppola, Fincher, Clooney, Depp, Cameron, Anniston, Jackson, Stone, Bacon, Hanks, Scorsese all got their start in horror.
  35. No budget? No problem.
  36. Horror has the best anthologies.
  37. "Just tell him to call you Billie.”
  38. Who wants The Simpsons without the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes?
  39. Screw Marvel. Universal gave us the first shared cinematic universe.
  40. There’s always room for Poe.
  41. “Hail to the king, baby.”
  42. And to S. King as well.
  43. Hammer films.
  44. Amicus too.
  45. Vincent Price
  46. Christopher Lee
  47. Peter Cushing
  48. Lon Cheney Sr, the Man of a Thousand Faces
  49. Boris Karloff
  50. Bela Lugosi
  51. Robert Englund
  52. Dick Smith
  53. John Carpenter
  54. The Raimi family
  55. David Cronenberg
  56. Wes Craven
  57. George A. Romero
  58. Ray Harryhausen
  59. Tom Savini
  60. Rick Baker
  61. Stan Winston
  62. Robert Chambers
  63. Jack Pierce
  64. Rob Bottin
  65. Greg Niccotero
  66. The scream queens.
  67. All the horror hosts
  68. Because I live in Corman’s world.
  69.  "Too much blood” is not a criticism.
  70. Crappy sequels do not tarnish a legacy, they ARE the legacy.
  71. The only genre to give you giant killer bunny rabbits. With a straight face.
  72. Bad actors? No problem.
  73. We have all the inbred cannibal hillbillies.
  74. No more monsters on Earth? Fuck it. We’ll go to space and find more!
  75. It’s the best genre for traumatizing small children.
  76. We take our face peels literally.
  77. No other genre would make stars out of Bruce Campbell, Sid Haig, or Michael Berryman.
  78. Mel gave us Young Frankenstein…
  79. …and Max gave us World War Z.
  80. Creative use of garden tools.
  81. If there’s a good remake, it’s probably horror.
  82. Plot holes? No problem.
  83. Tree rape… three times.
  84. “Do you like Huey Lewis and the News? Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.”
  85. Creepy kids.
  86. It’s always a wonderful day for an exorcism.
  87. The bad guys have a chance to win.
  88. “Help me! Help meeee!”
  89. Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma
  90. Crows on the monkey bars.
  91. “We have such sights to show you.”
  92. Because no one leaves Australia alive.
  93. We’re on a first name basis with its biggest stars - Jason, Mike, Freddy, Chucky…
  94. We prefer a rubber suit to state of the art CGI.
  95. No one ever walked out of a theater because a movie was too funny.
  96. Dinner with John Hurt.
  97. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”
  98. The spider walk
  99. All the best scientists are mad.
  100. “Hey! Check this out! I found the ass end!”




Friday, May 17, 2013

Modern Monsters

This post is my final entry in this year's May Monster Madness Blog Hop. I confess I didn't realize this was supposed to be a daily thing, but being forced to post every 24 hours, regardless of mother's day, late outings, filling out progress reports or smashing my face into the pavement, has proven a mental exercise that I needed. I want to thank Anne for the invitation, Anne, Emma and Ked for setting this whole thing up, and finally to all the participants - both my fellow bloggers and our readers. This has been a fun week, and I look forward to doing it again next year. If you want to hear more of what I have to say, please tune in each week to the Dark Discussions podcast . It took us some time, but Phil, Eric and I have really hit our stride as we hit our 100th episode.


I have no doubt that the heyday of monster films has passed. The only reliable source of monster movies lately has been the SyFy channel, and the less said about those films the better. But all is not lost. There have been some excellent, or at least enjoyable, monster films in recent years, and I've picked a bunch that worked well for me.

Some parameters - I needed a timeframe for modern, so I chose the 15 year period from 1998-2012. 20 years gets us back a full generation, which feels too far back. 15 years gets us to a time where the CGI monster had mostly replaced the practical, and the internet, cell phones and other modern conveniences were becoming everyday things that most films could no longer ignore.

Also to keep it modern, I ignored films that were continuing from an earlier era. No remakes or sequels to old franchises, so those new Godzilla films were off the table, as was the Kong remake, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Piranha 3D.

I am also sticking with what a "monster movie" means to me. Something tangible - no ghosts. Something unnatural - no normal sharks, gators, snakes, etc, though mutated or genetically manipulated forms were fair game. Nothing human or close to human - slashers, serial killers, real historical figures, etc. Lastly, nothing so overly familiar that they have graduated from the "monster movie" genre into one of their own - vampire movies, zombie movies, werewolf movies, etc.

So without further ago, 25 26 of my favorite modern monster films, in semi-chronological order:

1998
Deep Rising
http://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Deep-Rising-1-300x162.jpg
Stephen Sommers' first film remains his best. Treat Williams and Famke Janssen play a pair of theives on a luxury cruise ship beseiged by a prehistoric sea monster called Ottoia (which in fact bears next to no resemblance to the actual animal it is supposed to be).  Fast paced and tongue firmly in cheek, this film would make a great double feature with Tremors.


The Faculty
 http://www.explore-science-fiction-movies.com/images/parasite-parasitoid-types-of-aliens-the-faculty.jpg
On the heels of Scream, Robert Rodriguez delivers a post-modern teen horror blend of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing. The monster itself is only revealed in small bits towards the end, but this before-they-were-stars studded yarn is one of the strongest horror flicks of the 90s. (Soon to be discussed on the Dark Discussions podcast - stay tuned!)

1999
Deep Blue Sea

Let's be honest, the monster genre has more cheese than a fondue party, and Deep Blue Sea is perfectly comfortable being a can of Cheez Wiz. What's not to love about genius level bio-engineered sharks chasing Thomas Jane, LL Cool Jay and Sam Jackson through the confined corridors of a sinking medical research platform?

2000
Pitch Black
Vin Diesel arrives in style in David Twohy's visually stunning, morally ambiguous thriller. Riddick is one of the best characters of the last 20 years, and Pitch Black offers layers for those willing to look deeper than its Aliens-inspired action. Check out the Dark Discussions episode here.

2001
Jeeper's Creepers

A tight thriller that divides people with its ending. The finale made the movie for me, when it revealed that the Creeper was in fact some unearthly being, and not merely some nut job. Monster movies were pretty thin back then, so it was a pleasant surprise (now spoiled. Sorry!)


Monster's Inc
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Who says monsters have to be scary? Well, I guess I did, but if this movie does anything, its show that scary is in the eye of the beholder. While far from my favorite Pixar film, Mike, Sully and Boo are some of my favorite characters from their stable, and this film is a visual treat for any monster fan.

2002
Blade II
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Here not for its vampires, but for the Reapers. The film that cemented my love for Guillermo del Toro. A great blend of action and horror.

Eight Legged Freaks
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Now we're talking! Hordes of gigantic spiders attacking a small desert town? This is Monster Movie 101.


Reign of Fire
It's kind of shocking that dragons, one of the greatest monsters of legend, didn't really get much love until the last decade, and even now Dragonslayer's Vermithrax Perjorative remains the standard. The apocalyptic setting is a great twist to the classic trope.


2005
The Descent
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I rarely use the term "instant classic", but this one was. An absolute must see (just make sure you don't get the American ending). And don't forget to hear the Dark Discussions review!


Feast
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Best known for being the most successful Project Greenlight film, this really is a nice little gem of a monster movie. Fast paced, sharp humor, and not at all shy about pulling the trigger on any of the characters. An excellent variation on the "monster seige" movie.


2006
Black Sheep
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No, not the Chris Farley vehicle. This tale from down under features carnivorous GM sheep, an evil sheep fetus, and tosses in a weresheep for good measure. One of the best horror comedies of the last decade.


The Host
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This Korean monster movie has of the best monster moments ever, as the monster runs up and down a riverbank eating people on their lunch break. Its a big wad to blow so early in the movie, but the daring choice pays off and the film delivers.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
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The first film was all swashbuckling, this time its all sea monsters. It has my favorite celluloid adaptation of the Kraken, and the Flying Dutchman is jam packed with awesome creature designs.


Slither
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James Gunn's homage to alien parasites is bloody and wickedly funny.


2007
The Mist
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Thomas Jane returns to the list in what may be my favorite Stephen King film ever. If you have a chance, watch the black and white version - it just enhances the mood and disguises some of the weaker FX shots. We covered this film in one of my very first Dark Discussions podcasts (forgive the rough edges).


2008
The Burrowers
The Burrowers
Not a lot of western monster films out there (Valley of the Gwangi and....?). In this tale a group of lawmen take off after some Indians for killing a band of settlers, only to watch it all go to hell once they discover the true killers.

Cloverfield
A great "man in the street" take on the classic monster rampage. Not a huge fan of Clover himself, but his little parasitic buddies creeped me out. Just waiting for the sequel...



Hellboy II: The Golden Army
I already mentioned the Tooth Fairies, but this is a film chock full of great monsters. The Plant Elemental is simply stunning.




The Ruins

Brutal killer plant movie. Did terribly at the box office, but really deserves to find an audience. Dark Discussions podcast coming soon.


Splinter
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A pair of criminals and their hostages are trapped in a gas station by a fungal (?) parasite. The use of a gymnast as the monster results in the creepiest set of moves since Linda Blair came down the stairs. Discussed on Dark Discussions podcast.


2009
District 9

Neil Blomkamp's debut film is one of the stronger SF efforts in recent memory, and the Prawn one of the most well realized CG creatures to date.  

Splice
A slow burn Canadian SF-horror hybrid. I think it has been terribly misunderstood by its critics. A modern Frankenstein film that again asks what responsibility we have to our creations, and what price must others pay for our own hubris.

2010
Monsters
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The giant alien monsters take a back seat to the human drama. The use of post-monster carnage  to comment on US foreign policy may irritate some viewers, but the film works for me even when its politics don't.

Troll Hunter

A Norwegian found footage film taps into classic folklore to deliver a fascinating behind the scenes look at how the government handles monster containment. Another must see film.

2012
Cabin the Woods


One of my favorite films of 2012, by one of my favorite entertainment-makers. The finale is just bug nuts with monsters, and the ride there is a treat too. Check out the Dark Discussions Podcast.

So there you go, 25 26 films that prove the monster genre just ain't dead yet, and with movies like Pacific Rim coming down the pipe, we might yet be seeing a revival.

Are there any films I missed? Anything you think deserves a mention? Please let me know in the comments.

Thanks again to everyone involved in the 2013 May Monster Madness Blog Hop. I just checked my stats, and today is by far the biggest day I've ever had. Come again soon!