Saturday, February 25, 2012

HORROR MAVERICKS, Author Danny Draven

“A big film that has the luxury of a $150 million ad budget will certainly educate the public as to what the title means or what kind of film it is. But when you have no money and you’re at the video store or scrolling down the menu on iTunes or Apple TV, the title has to be understandable so people get it. If you can tell a story without even a log line, you’ve got a killer title.” – from the interview with Charles Band

As much of a fan as I am, I’ve never had any interest whatsoever in making films. The whole process seems hard and complicated and scary as all hell. However, I’m somewhat absurdly obsessed with looking into the inner working of film, especially everything that happened behind and beyond the camera. When watching, the story means the most to me, but I’m always curious about what goes into making sure that the story is told effectively. Not only does Danny Draven’s Horror Mavericks: Filmmaking Advice from the Creators, fill that need for me, but it seems to hold some damn helpful tools for those actually interested in doing something with the knowledge as well.

Horror Mavericks consists of 19 short interviews with some of the masters of Horror film, ranging across all levels of production. Want advice from Charles Band (president of Full Moon, as if you didn’t already know) on using 3D technology? How about cues from Reggie Banister (the Phantasm movies) and Robert England (if I need to tell you, kindly step away) about how the best directors interact with their actors? Add in producers, directors, composers, sfx and vfx artists, Tony Timpone and Lovecraft, because why not, and you’ve got a powerful medley of information in a slim, easy to carry package.

The variety of sources is what makes this book stand out in a see of similar resources. Usually you get a book focusing on one or two aspects of filmmaking, usually effects, directing or acting. It was very informative to hear from producers about what they look for when someone is pitching an idea or how a good one interacts with the film crew. Likewise, the interviews with composer Nathan Barr (Hostel I&II and True Blood) and Director of Photography Sam McCurdy (The Descent) were very enlightening from a fan point of view.

Similarly, the brevity is another highpoint. Every interview gets right to the point, cutting past the fat and self-hype that usually bloats books like this. I’m not kidding you that I read the entire thing during a day at work, while trying to keep teenagers from beating each other up. At the same time, as short as it is, it’s packed to the gills with information. And you can cram it in your pants pocket if you really need to.

Now on the down side, I’m sure Lloyd Kaufman (once again, if you don’t know him, step away quickly, blasphemer), Robert Englund and Debbie Rochon aren’t saying anything they haven’t said a million times before in a million other places. Also, I have a tough time believing that anyone really needs to hear acting advice from John D. LeMay (especially when more useful info has already been given by the aforementioned Englund, Rochon and Banister). That’s nowhere near enough to hurt the overall package, though.

Danny Draven has worked as an editor, director, cinematographer and writer for over a decade as a part of Full Moon, so he obviously knew the right people to go to and knows how to be economical with everything he does. That approach works out marvelously for Horror Mavericks, giving the maximum bang/buck/space ratio for obsessive fans and aspiring filmmakers.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Aleric: Monster Hunter by Fred Wiehe

“A disquiet hush clung to the medical clinic, as if in actuality it were a mortuary rather than a place of healing. Dr. Ratterman prowled the deserted hallway like an undertaker afraid of waking the dead entrusted to his care. The last patient had left. Both nurse and receptionist had gone home. Only the doctor and the demons that possessed him remained.”

What would your response be if I told you about a story including pre-Rice style violent vampires, Zombies and a Jeckyl/Hyde style monster based within a somewhat uncommon subculture that has traditionally lived within a shroud of mystery (Gypsies)? Add in a super powered, nearly immortal detective/monster hunter and you’re looking at what should be a recipe for ass kicking good times. I certainly wanted to be excited about it. Unfortunately, Aleric: Monster Hunter seemed to actively want me to dislike the process of reading it, despite the presence of so much objectively cool stuff.

We start off with Aleric Tomba Bimbai as a part-vampire, monster hunting Gypsy who takes on a job to help out a Zombie named Wasso Wonko (nope, not joking). Wasso, though zombified, retains enough self awareness to know that something is wrong and ask for assistance, but can’t remember how he was zombified. With a potential zombie outbreak looming, Aleric embarks on a search for answers that unveils twin nefarious plots by the self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies and a mad scientist with delusions of potential grandeur. And he runs into relationship problems with his fiancĂ© turned vampire (who also had partially turned him). And some nonsense with her new lover. Then there’s the burgeoning relationship with a con artist fortune teller…

I really dig monsters and I can completely groove on the type of Noir detective story this is trying so hard to be, so I desperately wanted to get into this tale. However, there are a few problems that stopped me at every turn. From the above attempt at synopsis, I’m sure you noticed a certain lack of focus. Meandering can be fine, even great when used to reveal character, but I need a consistent thread to hold onto or my ADD addled brain goes wandering off on its own. The story just doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go.

Also, the main character suffers a distinct lack of personal flaws. He’s got enough vampire in him to make use of the advantages (speedy healing, immortality, immense strength, etc.) without having to worry about sunlight or the need to feed off of people. If a regular schlub manages to overcome the odds and defeat big ol’ bad beasties that go bump and chomp in the night, then a miraculous and marvelous triumph has occurred. On the other hand, there is never any doubt that the superhero will win at the end of the day.

Then there is the way Gypsies are dealt with. Maybe it is my own lack of intercultural knowledge or some sort of personal bias talking here, but the depiction of Gypsies struck me as somewhat racist. According to Wiehe, all gypsies are shiftless grifters with no anchor to anything, who lie and cheat their way through the system while remaining ghosts in the eyes of government entities. I won’t even bother going into the all knowing yet ephemeral “Gypsy Network” that keeps track of the comings and goings of all gypsies everywhere. In the course of the book, they are treated like noble outlaws but these are the same stereotypes Romani have suffered under for centuries. Saying that they are good qualities doesn’t change the fact that assumptions are being made about an entire group of people based on their ethnicity.

Finally, and I know I am getting nitpicky but I can’t help myself, Wiehe’s use of language is more than a tad overwrought, needlessly thick and periodically redundant. When I wasn’t laughing at scenes that were supposed to chill or menace (look to the quote at the beginning), I was slowing to a crawl as I muddled through my own apathy. While story should always come first, language is the tool to convey it.  Here, it provided more of a barrier.

As I said at the start, I really wanted to like this story. It’s made up of the things that I adore. However, like the sausage, ice cream and fried chicken cheesecake I dream of at night, it didn’t hit me as well as I wanted.