Found footage horror films are a genuinely modern phenomenon. We can attempt to trace roots to Cannibal Holocaust in 1980, tie origins to the aesthetic and stylistic techniques in the even older cinéma vérité genre, or, if we really want to go back, we can look at Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both novels were written in the epistolary format, i.e. with their fictional narratives created through letters, diary entries, and newspaper cuttings. Just like modern found footage films, they sold fiction as fact and the audience lapped it up.
I’ve become pretty addicted to Rotten Tomatoes of late, and have been surprised by the number of films that I think have undeservedly received the dreaded under-60% or “rotten” score. I know the system is criticized for its many inconsistencies and flaws, but a lot of the low ratings kind of bothered me, so I re-watched the films thinking I’d maybe previously missed the point of them.
A lot of people see ‘product placement’ as a dirty term, where faceless advertising companies diminish all artistic merit from film and instead use them as advertisements to hawk their branded wares to the public. We’ve all seen it; sometimes it can be subtle and sometimes blatant, like Nintendo’s promotion in the 1989 film The Wizard, which created my lifelong unfulfilled need for a Power Glove. I never knew one kid who actually owned a Power Glove, but the idea that out there somewhere a child sat at Christmas of 1989 and unwrapped a brand new one still gives me a slight pang of jealousy. This probably says more about my own stilted emotional growth, but I like to think it shows how intoxicating product placement can actually be. Brands and products are shown in movies in such an awe-inspiring and positive light that it’s only natural that we want in on them too, especially as children. On the surface, product placement appears to be a modern invention created by cynical advertising companies attempting to covertly reach our consumer driven society, but it’s really been here for a long, long time.
Predator is one of the best action films ever made. It’s got Schwarzenegger in his prime, a young and ambitious John McTeirnan at the helm, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and a seven-foot invisible monster. Boy, they don’t make them like that anymore…
Firstly, you should know I wrote Predators when I was 13. Like every kid, after the first time I sat and was blown away by the original, I made it better (or, in the teenage parlance, “cooler”). Sure, one Predator is cool, but what about four? There should definitely be a fight between them, too, and honestly, the female character is so boring, it would be so much cooler if she was a sniper! The difference between my vision and that of the eventual makers of Predators was that I wasn’t given the keys to sci-fi horror royalty and millions of dollars to spend, and I still required a legal guardian. In this article, I’m going to look at the narrative structure of Predators and how it functions as a sequel. But before that, let’s look at what it’s actually about.
I didn’t get off on the best foot with Daredevil. I went to see it over the Valentine’s Day weekend of 2003. I thought two things: firstly that it would be good film, and secondly, that it would be seen as a suitable romantic gesture. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m going to use the theatrical release as the basis for this article, as it’s the version most people will have seen. There’s a lot of comment that the director’s cut is far superior, but since I’m going to focus on characterisation I think most points will be applicable to both anyway. Daredevil has a pretty big cast and suffers like a lot of other superhero comic adaptations that overpopulate the narrative so that the producers can say they stayed faithful to the source material. Because of this, I’m going to just focus on the hero Daredevil, and the main villain, The Kingpin, because really in these types of films they’re the only characters that are completely integral—especially the villain. Take Die Hard. Imagine if Hans Gruber didn’t attempt to take over Nakatomi towers, and think how shit that film would be, as just John McClane making awkward small talk with his wife’s co-workers for an hour and a half. In these kind of films, the villain rules the roost; it’s their actions that bring the narrative and the film to life. But before I move onto The Kingpin, I’m going to give a brief overview of the comic in general.
I’ve got a small confession; I cheated before compiling this list. I thought describing my usual viewing habits (“saw Die Hard for the 1,534th time—still awesome”) would become pretty tedious, so I’ve tried to find a few things that I’ve wanted to watch for a while but never got around to.
As far as recent ridiculous horror high-concepts go, Altitude sits just behind Burning Bright, but that’s always going to be a hard one to top. Basically, a group of cool and sassy college kids charter a plane and get caught in a storm with a killer flying space octopus. It’s a fairly ambitious premise, but you can tell how far the budget has been stretched to accommodate it. The whole way through the film I wanted to see a lot more of the space octopus, so spent most of my time willing it to appear, but every time it did I had forgotten how poor the CGI was, then cringed and hoped it would go away. I really like the concept and thought it was a pretty bold attempt, and in the ‘killer space octopus’ genre it ranks pretty high.
Recently, when I was walking down the street, a bus passed me. It was plastered with advertisements for the Martin Lawrence integrity-stripping franchise entry Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. The poster looked terrible, and I’m sure that’s a pretty accurate description of the film, too. It did nothing to interest me or make me want to spend money on the film, but it did make me think about film posters and how terrible they’ve become. Movie posters surround us; when we walk down the street they’re plastered everywhere; they cover the walls of cinemas and can take up a page in a newspaper; even when we get home the images have a habit of popping up on our computer screens. The advent of television and the internet changed movie marketing. Trailers now not only precede films in the cinema but TV spots litter scheduling, and any trailer can be streamed online with a click of a button. From an advertising perspective, a trailer is surely a better way to communicate to the audience, as it shows the potential consumer the actual product—how the film looks and sounds. A poster, on the other hand, can only ever be a representation of the film. But is that such a bad thing?
What makes a film cool? And what does “cool” mean, anyway? It feels like a word that means a million things and nothing at the same time, but it’s a concept that’s constantly used to promote, review and defend a huge amount of Hollywood mainstream cinema. If you ever watch a Michael Bay interview, you’ll probably notice he doesn’t really talk about the basics that much—he’ll mention the script a bit, say the actors have done a good job, but you know he’ll tell you Optimus Prime doing The Ram Jam on Megatron will be the most awesome thing anyone will ever see. So why does “awesome” become so important? What does it even really mean? Is it just a more fan accessible and media appropriate way of describing spectacle? In a sense, it probably is, but how many big budget action/adventure films have you seen that supersede this type of spectacle over every other part of the production—the films that think looking and being “cool” is a perfectly suitable substitute for any attempts at characterization, narrative coherency or originality? And the worst thing is, they get away with it.
Who really enjoys school? I wasn’t a particularly good pupil, and it really shows the determination of the Scottish education system that I can I perform any type of mental arithmetic or have the ability to spell. School always felt like a static, sterile environment, void of imagination. The point of interest during my formative years was the school’s desperate attempt to inject life into their teaching by using the television programme Ghostwriter.