Tag Archives: Aliens (film)

A Quick Rant — Titanic 3D

By Tom Kapr

I didn’t mind the fact that James Cameron was re-releasing Titanic using post-conversion 3D. Most films released in 3D through post-conversion look awful, because they were not actually filmed in 3D. But this is perfectionist James Cameron we’re talking about. His films are always on the front lines of technological advancement, and, with a few picky exceptions (obvious Schwarzenegger stunt doubles in True Lies), they hold up over the decades. And Avatar was one of the first films to really show what 3D technology can do for a film artistically.

Mainly, I just really wanted to see Titanic on the big screen, 3D or not.

Having now finally seen Titanic in the cinema for the first time ever, in 3D, I have to say, it is one of the most beautiful, visually stunning, emotionally gripping, and technically immaculate films ever made. The 3D, however, is a mixed bag. Here’s the good first: the depth of field is phenomenal. As far as pure dimensionality goes, it does exactly what 3D should do. It makes the world on-screen look as if you could step right into it. This is really only a next logical step in terms of cinema as a visual medium; it has always been a medium that created the illusion of depth (foreground, background, etc.). 3D just takes that illusion to the next level. And this is, without a doubt, the best-looking post-conversion 3D ever. No surprise for cinematic pioneer James Cameron.

But here’s the bad thing: You still have to wear those glasses, and even worse, in the case of Titanic, they darken the picture. I noticed this about halfway through the film when, just out of curiosity, I removed the glasses and looked at the film through my own eyes (well, my own prescription lenses, anyway). It was on a close-up of Kate Winslet. All of a sudden, without the 3D glasses, her skin looked much healthier, with more color, more red in her cheeks, and her hair was much redder. I went back and forth a couple times. The glasses made her look much grayer — almost sickly, in direct comparison.

Throughout the rest of the film, I would occasionally compare the picture with and without the glasses. The color was always much richer without. More reds, more blues. Especially during night scenes — so, for like, the entire second half of the movie — I was able to discern much more color detail without the 3D glasses.

I enjoyed the film immensely, and I actually have a much deeper appreciation of it than when I first saw it on full-screen VHS all those years ago. I would call it a masterpiece, even among Cameron’s higher-than-average number of near-perfect films (including Aliens and Terminator 2); and I would, in a huge change of opinion, say it deserved all the accolades it received back in 1998, including its Best Picture Oscar.

I am very glad I finally had the opportunity to see Titanic at the cinema. But I would much rather have been able to watch it without those 3D glasses, in glorious, illusory 2D.

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Super Mario Bros.: An Awesomely Bad 90s Video Game Movie

By Dan MK

(Screencaps and captions by Tom Kapr)

 

Not a Joel Silver production. Not a James Cameron film.

 

Once upon a time, there were two Italian plumbers who somehow got magically transported to another world, where they had to fight against the evil King Koopa in order to save the Princess and restore order to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Those of us who grew up as Nintendo addicts know the story well. We spent hours playing and replaying the video game (and all of its sequels) until it was in our bloodstream. When they finally came out with a Mario Bros. movie, any child in America could have guessed what the plot of the movie would be, which goes something like this:

(Warning: Here be spoilers!)

Mario and Luigi (that’s Mario Mario and Luigi Mario) are trying to help the Princess out with some plumbing issues (don’t ask) when she gets kidnapped by the Koopa cousins — all two of them. The Marios follow her through a mysterious portal which leads them to a parallel dimension, created by the meteor which struck the earth millions of years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs — or so we thought. In actuality (i.e., fiction), dinosaurs continued to exist in this parallel dimension, evolving into humanish things in much the same way that apes evolved into humanish things in our dimension (i.e., New Yorkers).

 

Or present-day North Carolina. Whichever.

 

Mario and Luigi make their way through the city of Dinohattan (get it? GET IT?), fighting off Goombas (i.e., “de-evolved” humanish descendants of dinosaurs) and other things that are kind of like Goombas, but their heads are different, and that difference is never explained (Koopas?).

 

Dinohattan (view from Governor's Island, pre-9/11).

 

They befriend a knowledgeable (and musical) man-creature named Toad, who is promptly arrested and turned into a Goomba.

 

See you in your nightmares, children!

 

The Marios are arrested too, after which they meet up with Dennis Hopper, who pokes Luigi in the eyes and hisses. They then break out of prison on a zip-line, hijack a police car, make a wrong turn, and wind up in the desert. Fortunately, the fungus saves them, but Mario doesn’t trust it.

With the help of the newly reformed, “intelligent” Koopa cousins, Mario and Luigi return to the city and break into a dance club in flamboyant clothing. You see, in order to save the Princess, Mario has to romance an obese woman in a spiky dress, so that he can snatch the rock she is wearing around her neck which she had stolen from them earlier after they were mugged by an old lady. Mario tries to grab the rock with his mouth, but ultimately realizes he can still use his hands.

 

It was either this, or Mario would have had to romance a giant fish that could swallow him whole.

 

Mario gets the rock, but then he and Luigi instantly lose it. King Koopa’s wife (girlfriend? mistress? cousin?) takes it, and celebrates by drinking a glass of earthworm. Mario and Luigi, having gone through all this trouble, decide they don’t need the rock after all, and jump through the roof with crates on their heads. They sneak into King Koopa’s castle by pretending to be garbage. Then they mess with the plumbing and put on two uniforms that they just happen to find in a locker. (Wow! Those uniforms are just like in the video game!)

 

"Do you always have to do that weird thing with your finger?"

 

After this, Mario finally eats a flower and spits out a freakin’ fireball — eh, wishful thinking. Actually, Mario and Luigi get on an elevator and hide behind Goombas. They make the Goombas dance. It turns out Goombas love to dance (contrary to popular rumors that Goombas only love to walk off cliffs). Oh, and Mario almost falls down a pit, and is saved at the last minute. Luigi dangles on a hook, and Mario still doesn’t trust the fungus. (Unbelievable!)

 

The fungus. Trust it.

 

Meanwhile, the Princess meets Yoshi. King Koopa enters her chambers and tries to seduce her with his long tongue (something only Dennis Hopper could pull off?). She is understandably bothered by this, but the fact of the matter is that she was born out of an egg, and her father is a pile of fungus (played by Lance Henriksen). She rejects King Koopa, and he scares Yoshi and leaves (that meanie). Shortly thereafter, Koopa’s girlfriend enters the room and befriends the Princess before trying to stick a knife in her throat. Yoshi protects the Princess by trying to eat the girlfriend. The Princess flees, and Yoshi gets freakin’ stabbed, to the delight of all the young children in the audience. And no, he doesn’t poop out any eggs.

 

A little something for the ladies in the audience.

 

After Yoshi gets stabbed, Goomba-Toad gets set on fire and screams. Princess puts out the fire (she finds an extinguisher!) but then runs away. The two useless Koopa Cousin characters appear just long enough to introduce the Princess to the fungus and then scram (they won’t be seen again until after the credits). Meanwhile, Luigi and Mario find the Princess. You see, they relied on their wits and made the Goombas dance — JUST LIKE IN THE VIDEO GAME!!!

 

She has her father's... um... nevermind.

 

After meeting up with the Princess and her father (who is in no condition to be having company), Mario runs off to save a roomful of Brooklynite women (“except for Angelica — she’s from Queens, but she’s alright”) who have been kidnapped by King Koopa. One of them is Mario’s girlfriend (mistress? cousin?) . As soon as Mario leaves, Princess and Luigi get captured by the evil King Dennis Hopper, who wants his pizza, for goodness’ sake! On the other hand, Mario does considerably better by escaping with all the women on a mattress. They are being pursued by Goombas (who are on their own mattress, of course), but it’s okay because Mario sticks a wrench in the ground. He’s a plumber, you see?

 

Remember that cool level in the video game where you have to save a bunch of women who aren't the princess from King Koopa's World Trade Center-lookalike tower by maneuvering a Goomba's used mattress through a huge iced-up heating duct? Me neither.

 

Mario’s mattress turns out to be a magical mattress because instead of simply falling out of the pipe, it glides slowly across a substantial portion of the Dinohattan set and disables King Koopa and his Goombas. Everyone celebrates, completely forgetting that King Koopa is still holding a gun, and still very conscious.

Koopa points a gun at the Mario Bros., so they throw — correction: they shoot – their shoes at him and knock him down again, this time over a railing and into a bucket. I’d like to point out that, during the course of the film, we actually see quite a few people fall over this railing. Not many railings; this railing. It’s pretty ridiculous.

 

This railing.

 

Things get more intense at this point. People run. Luigi brings all of the women, including the Princess, back to the portal, where King Koopa’s girlfriend accidentally kills herself by sticking a small rock into a big one. Luigi sends all the Brooklynite girls back through the portal except for the Princess.

 

Everybody's got their thing.

 

Meanwhile, Mario and King Koopa duke it out in the city. Their fight begins in the bucket, continues through a crowded street, and ends with King Koopa holding a gun to Mario. Mario sets off a Bob-omb (yay!), but it falls through the ground (what!?). Meanwhile, the small-rock-in-the-big-rock situation causes the two parallel dimensions to merge, and Mario, King Koopa, and a small handful of Goombas are transported to Manhattan (for some reason the rest of Dinohattan wasn’t invited).

 

"Holy crap! I'm turning 8-bit!"

 

In our world, King Koopa promptly turns a sleazy man into a sleazy chimpanzee, and all of the many civilian-bystanders think it’s absolutely adorable.

 

The video game was alright, but what really would have made it great is chimpanzees dressed up like humans.

 

Koopa points the gun at Mario and says the now infamous line:

King Koopa: “And now, I’m gonna make a monkey outta you, plumber!”

Just when all seems lost, Mario trusts the fungus (finally!!!).

 

Trusting the fungus (actual footage).

 

Luigi uses his quasi-plumbing skills to remove the small rock from the big rock, returning Mario, Koopa, and the Goombas to Dinohattan. Then he and Princess Daisy hurry back to catch the end of the Mario-Koopa fight. The Goombas dance again. The fat woman gives Luigi more shoes. Koopa screams. Finally, to the deep satisfaction of all the hardcore fans of the video games, the Mario Bros. defeat the evil King Koopa with… um… guns.

 

Guns which are in no way re-painted Super Scopes.

 

After an emotional farewell, Mario and Luigi return to their world, while the Princess stays behind to… well, I suppose to take her rightful place on the throne of Dinohattan. Most of her dimension is a desert, so this seems to be a bleak sort of existence. Nevertheless, she wants to get to know her dad, who “loves those plumbers.”

 

Winning!

 

I would just like to point out that once the Marios leave, the Princess’s remaining two friends are both sorely disappointing versions of their video game characters, and both of them will spend weeks recovering from the horrendous injuries they suffered because of her. Her reign as the Princess is off to a very rocky start.

 

Princess Daisy, a slightly charred Toad, and a slightly stabbed Yoshi.

 

Three weeks later, Mario and Luigi are in their apartment, when who should appear but PRINCESS DAISY RAMBO TOADSTOOL MCCLANE, ready to mutilate some more Koopa scum!!! Unfortunately for our heroes, however, the obvious sequel setup is in vain. After all, you can’t take a beloved story about two plumbers and their adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom, where they use items like fire flowers, mushrooms, and stars, and turn it into a stupid story about two plumbers and their adventures in the reptile dimension, where they use items like guns, boots, and mattresses. It’s just not the same.

 

"And then I said, 'Get away from her, you bitch!' You should have seen the look on her face!"

 

It should go without saying that this is quite possibly one of the weirdest movies ever made. From what I understand, making the movie was just as painful an experience as trying to watch it. I have heard that Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo could only make it through the production with the help of heavy drinking. As a result, one necessarily expects for there to be a number of elements in the film that simply defy comprehension.

 

Should've read the fine print in those contracts.

 

And yet there are a few scenes that really hurt my brain. When the Marios are arrested and taken to a police station, there is a woman who keeps rubbing one officer’s shoulder with her foot. It is not clear who the woman is, why she is so much higher than the cop, or why this character even exists in the movie.

 

Catherine Tramell visits the set.

 

Later, when the Marios are taken to a “devo chamber,” an enormous pile of nasty-looking poop suddenly appears all over the floor just moments after Toad is turned into a Goomba. It is of course an error that the editor made — at least, I assume that in the script there was some explanation for why a clean floor would suddenly be covered in feces. But that’s what bugs me so much. What possible explanation could there possibly have been that would not have seriously altered the tone of the movie? Or, would it really have altered the tone all that much?

 

Approximate visual representation of the average viewer's brain while watching this movie.

 

My personal favorite visual treat is at the end when Dennis Hopper shoots a man with a “devo gun” in order to turn him into a monkey, and then continues to act as if the gun is still shooting something, despite the fact that NOTHING IS HAPPENING.

 

King Koopa de-evolving an ordinary man into Ted Nugent.

 

Super Mario Bros. set a standard for all films based on video games, in that it was the first one ever made. A low standard is still a standard, after all. (Author’s note: My brother informs me that there was ONE Japanese movie based on a video game before this one. My brother is the type of person that film critics like to refer to as a “nerd.”)

If there is anything admirable about this movie, it is the way in which the filmmakers so blatantly ignore almost everything in their source material, boldly replacing it with an astoundingly stupid storyline, and asking — even expecting – critics and audiences to seriously entertain the notion that they’ve created a movie which deserves to be associated with the Mario Bros. Those elements of the original storyline which somehow survived this process and made it into the final film (such as Toad, Yoshi, and even King Koopa) seem like they would be more at home in a film by Terry Gilliam or even Paul Verhoeven — except, of course, for the title characters themselves, who clearly belong to a much more lighthearted kind of family film.

 

Two weeks later, "Jurassic Park" was released. Coincidence? (Yeah, probably.)

 

The result of all this is a wildly uneven film which takes you violently from one end of the spectrum, featuring the goofy slapstick of the Koopa cousins and the corny optimism of Luigi, all the way to the other end, where Yoshi must suffer a horrific stab wound while the Princess screams in terror.

 

Couldn't resist one last screencap riff, and here it is: "Set design courtesy of the Ikea Dungeon collection." Thank you!

 

And that is the genius of creating such an awesomely bad 90s movie based on… ah crap, the Goombas are dancing again. I gotta go.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #2: “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

By Tom Kapr

You’re investigating a shipwreck. You find a strange egg. As you’re examining the egg, it begins to hatch. Suddenly, a crablike creature jumps out and latches itself to your face. It sticks an ovipositor down your throat.

You’re in a coma. You wake up. The creature that had attached to your face has fallen off. It appears dead. Aside from a sore throat, you feel remarkably fine.

Until dinner, when you start to feel a strange feeling in your chest. It begins to hurt. It hurts a lot. The pain is unbearable. You feel like your being stabbed from the inside. Finally, your ribcage bursts and the young creature that has been lain inside you for gestation erupts.

You’re the first victim. The rest will meet their deaths at the jaws, claws, and deadly acidic blood of the full-grown beast.

It is no wonder that H.R. Giger’s xenomorph from Alien is the single most terrifying extraterrestrial being ever put on film. Nor is it a wonder that screenwriter Dan O’Bannen and director Ridley Scott’s 1979 outer-space horror flick is the single greatest haunted house movie ever, and is consistently at the top of the list when discussing alien horror.

One would be remiss not to include in the same discussion James Cameron’s action-packed 1986 sequel Aliens, which pitted sole human survivor of the first film Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a platoon of Marines against an entire colony of the vicious xenomorphic parasites (meaning they take on certain morphological characteristics of the living creatures in which they are impregnated). It also introduced the aliens’ mommy, in one of the most effective third-act reveals ever. And of course, it ends with the iconic mano a mano battle between one very pissed-off Ripley and one very pissed-off alien queen.

Later incarnations of the Alien xenomorphs are equally terrifying, though the films they inhabit are less iconic and of lesser quality (though writer Joss Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection is underrated, for its style, its story, and the direction in which it takes the concept of the xenomorphs).

So what is the #1 scariest movie alien of all time?….

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #8: “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#8. “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

… I am the Borg.”

A weirdly handsome couple: Brent Spiner as Data & Alice Krige as the Borg Queen

It may seem strange to have a Star Trek film on this list, but the Borg are possibly the scariest intelligent force the crew of the USS Enterprise ever had to deal with. Not because they will kill you. There are thousands of things that can kill you. The Borg, though, hold no ill will. They are not malicious. They are here to assimilate you and your entire culture, to remove anything that made you or it unique or beautiful and to retain for themselves only your cold unfeeling technology. They are here to fuse you with that technology, to pull your flesh apart and fit you with circuits and steel. They are here to take away your humanity. And resistance is futile.

Star Trek: First Contact–the eighth Star Trek film (second to feature Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rest of the Next Generation crew) and widely regarded as one of the best, even by some as second perhaps only to the iconic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan–is one of the most intellectually fascinating entries in the franchise yet still one of the most accessible to non-fans. Part of the reason for that (besides generally better writing and directing–props to regulars Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and director/star Jonathan Frakes) may be because it is deals with that classic sci-fi/horror theme of having our identity and humanity stripped away from us by beings who see themselves as superior because of their lack of feeling, their lack of humanity, their lack of pain or sorrow or anger, but who also lack joy and passion and love. (See Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix, even A Clockwork Orange, or any number of classic stories.) First Contact is even structured like a horror film.

Shouldn't have picked at it. (Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard)

This is not the first appearance by the Borg in the Star Trek universe. They had appeared several times on Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps most memorably in the third season cliffhanger finale ”The Best of Both Worlds” and the fifth season classic “I, Borg.” But, much like the way in which the film Aliens builds upon its predecessor, First Contact introduces the Borg Queen. Also similar to Aliens, this queen has a definite, intelligent, unique identity as opposed to her hundreds of drones. But unlike Aliens, this Borg Queen is less an instinct-driven monster and more a calculatingly logical and powerfully sensual humanoid, played wonderfully by Alice Krige. The viewer is drawn to her and repelled by her at the same time. Her individuality, her sensuality, and her relationship with the android and Next Generation regular Data (Brent Spiner) add a fascinating new layer to the Borg mythology that gives new meaning to the phrase “resistance is futile.”

(Special mention of the Oscar-nominated makeup team for their insanely good job on this film and on the Borg Queen in particular. Can you believe they lost to The Nutty Professor? That Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sure loves a fat-suit.)

Next on the countdown: “There will be no bargain…. I shall enjoy watching you die.”

James Cameron, Part III: The Future of 3D & Visual Effects

by Nathanael Griffis

So I’ve talked about James Cameron’s past, and Avatar, his present; now is the time to consider his future. He has prophetically spouted his greatness across the land. As annoying as that is, it is hard to deny. The evidence stands undeterred by the critical masses hoping that 3D is not the wave of the future, hoping that movie studios will just make normal films, hoping that we’ll still have money in our wallet at the end of the year. I hate having to pay four dollars more just because the movie is in 3D, and I have only seen two 3D movies (Avatar and Resident Evil: Afterlife) for that reason. Yet, I found myself regretting at times that I was so cheap and didn’t suck it up for, say, How to Train Your Dragon.

You’d think for a million-dollar camera they would have included red-eye removal.

3D is here to stay as long as it keeps making money, and there is no sign of it slowing. Some 3D films are losing at the box office, but others are taking in massive profits. Cameron’s Avatar would have kept on going if it hadn’t been for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which stole the 3D screens from him. There is another reason 3D is here to stay, and the reason is simply James Cameron himself.

Seven years ago Cameron decided he wanted to develop a 3D camera that allowed for better control of the depth of field. The issue with most 3D cameras is that they use side by side images. The idea comes from the way our eyes perceive depth, which works when something has actual depth, but film does not. Cameron realized the old red-green filtered images of 3D were stagnant and did not show continuous depth of field. What he needed was a camera that allowed one to adjust the focal point exactly. Enter the Cameron/Pace 3D Fusion camera, and by “enter,” I mean walk down a seven-year-long hallway.

Two cameras for the price of... two cameras.

The Fusion camera differs in that it does not film two side by side images. It utilizes a beam-splitting 50/50 mirror that cuts the actual singular image, giving it depth. It places one camera lens inside the other, essentially. The most amazing thing about the technology is that it is not some massive rig. It’s a small 28-pound camera that’s silent and handheld. The cameraman has complete control of the 3D focal point as he films, and he has to be aware of how he’s filming, because the point needs to shift as the camera moves.

Cameron explaining to his cast something that proves he’s smarter than them.

It’s fascinating stuff, and what’s all the more amazing is that, from everything I’ve researched at least, it was Cameron who worked on it. It wasn’t someone under him; it was him. He also did all the handheld shots in Avatar to make sure the focal point was where he wanted it. (This is not unusual for Cameron, who did most of the camera work for The Abyss, Titanic, the Terminator films, and Aliens as well). The innovation he’s developed has reinvigorated the technological presence of 3D. It’s not a false pseudo-3D with the red-green image. Yes, it still requires glasses–I’ll get to that. There is an actual focal point in the film that our eyes adjust to. This focal point is the main cause of discomfort when you’re watching a 3D film. Your eyes see the depth of the screen and the depth of the image. They are then confused by the fact that there are two conflicting focal points, making your head hurt.

Owwies and boo-boos aside, these innovations will matter, mainly because it will open the door for more innovation. Already, Nintendo is risking a 3D handheld system that eliminates glasses. Televisions are being released with 3D capability. Would any of this have been possible without Avatar? No. Avatar was the movie that the industry was waiting to use as a litmus test for how they should move forward with 3D, and it blew the door down. A note on the glasses: I think they will eventually be eliminated because that is still the major complaint of viewers. Will Cameron be the one to do it? I don’t think so. Too many companies are interested and invested in this technology now. Cameron had seven years without much competition to develop the Fusion camera; this is not the same environment now.

The beauty of Avatar is that the 3D is used, not forced. It never felt like a movie that had to be in 3D. A sword didn’t fly out of the screen at you. It shows the difference between gimmick and technique. It made audiences, and filmmakers, aware of the proper usage of 3D and encouraged a demand for the non-gimmicky display. Cameron’s place in film has long been solidified as a director. Now, unless unexpected events crop up in the next few years, we’ll have to accept that his place as a technological innovator is all but solidified as well. He started off in special effects, and it’s to his credit that he’s never left that behind but improved the entire art form.

–Nathanael Griffis

30 Days of Madness: Day 31

Well, I made it through 30 Days of Madness none too worse for the wear. The only major difference in my life is a series of YouTube videos that show me, a shy introvert who never was much for public performance, occasionally acting like a lunatic for all the world to see. Did I learn anything? I learned I never want to do anything this intense again. I learned a lot about the history of cinema. I learned a lot about my own abilities in film criticism. I reaffirmed that, especially when it comes to horror movies, there are a lot of good ones, a lot of bad ones, and a lot of stuff that is just plain ugly.

Let me take a quick look back over the movies I’ve watched this month of October:

Day 1: Nightbeast (1982) Hey, my first movie was from the year of my birth. How fitting. My inaugural flick was my personal introduction to Troma and one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, but one I would watch again with friends. My response video was only my second YouTube video, after my introductory video which is available for viewing on my channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/KapriciousT.

Day 2: Redneck Zombies (1987) My second Troma movie, and the first movie I ever refused to finish. I would like to wash my memory clean of this one. This one I actually was watching with friends (the only time during the month I was able to do so), and I was embarrassed about it.

Day 3: The Call of Cthulhu (2005) My third movie was a huge step up in quality, one that I would recommend to anyone, horror fan or not, and one that I would watch again by myself or with friends.

Day 4: Puppet Master (1989) My fourth day, I started having a little more fun with the video responses. This is actually my first scripted video to appear on the Internet–at least, the first one that I scripted. (There are one or two other videos floating around out there featuring my acting skills.) I would definitely watch this one again with friends.

Day 5: The Black Cat (2007) Surprisingly, the best thing I watched this month–for this project. (I’m not counting The Social Network or Amélie, which I watched almost immediately after finishing up with Day 30. Call it a palate-cleanser.) I may watch this one again, but it was so horrifying, I might have to wait awhile. I highly recommend it only for people with a high threshold for gore and horror, and especially for cinephiles and fans of Edgar Allan Poe.

Day 6: My Name Is Bruce (2008) Possibly the most disappointing movie I watched this month, in terms of expectations I had going into it, but also possibly the most fun I had doing the YouTube response. I might begrudgingly watch it again with other people.

Day 7: Pandorum (2009) Possibly the most pleasant surprise. (The Black Cat, while amazing, was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever watched and a bit difficult to get through.) I had a great time watching this one, and I’d watch it again by myself or with friends. I’d recommend it to most people.

Day 8: Zombies of Mass Destruction (2009) The second movie I refused to finish. The humor went from obnoxious to ridiculous to offensive. Nowhere near the level of Redneck Zombies, but not one I care to ever revisit.

Day 9: Funny Games (1997) One of the toughest movies I had to watch, and even more difficult formulating a response. This may be the most personally contentious film I’ve ever watched. I would not recommend this to anyone but serious film students. I had a great time doing the video though. Mmmm-bananas.

Day 10: Black Sabbath (1963) This was a really boring one, maybe not even worth watching with friends. I might revisit it at some point for a more in-depth review though.

Day 11: Fright Night (1985) Probably the movie in which my mood most changed (for the better) from the beginning to the end. I started out hating it and by the end was legitimately enjoying it. I’d watch it again, alone or with friends.

Day 12: Sometimes They Come Back (1991) I doubt I’ll ever bother with this one again in any setting.

Day 13: The Fly (1986) One I had been meaning to see for years, and I am glad I finally did. It was one of my favorites of the month, and I highly recommend it. Horrifying, humorous, heartbreaking. I’d watch it again alone or with friends.

Day 14: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) A classic, but one I probably will never sit through completely again, unless I get to see one of the other edits of the film floating around. Definitely worth revisiting for certain scenes and for its importance to cinema. Also, my first silent video response.

Day 15: Lo (2009) One of the true pleasant surprises of the month, and one that has appreciated the more I’ve thought, written, and talked about. Not only would I like to watch it again, I almost feel like I need to, as I’d be seeing it from a completely different perspective thanks to the way the plot wraps up. Did a Flickchart segment in my video, which is less interesting when it’s just me talking. Also gave me a chance to talk up http://www.Flickchart.com and http://blog.flickchart.com/index.php/category/flickfights.

Day 16: The Burrowers (2008) This one, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it immediately after watching it. It’s a well-made movie that doesn’t have a very good ending, and is also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. I may never watch it again, but I’m glad I saw it once.

Day 17: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) The final scene of this film still makes me uneasy to think about it. It’s definitely one of the best of the 70s-80s horror. I may watch it again someday, maybe with friends who could handle it.

Day 18: White Zombie (1932) The article in which I started doing a scene-by-scene recap but had no time to finish. I’d like to go back and finish, possibly to use in another project that I’ll be working on in conjunction with IncidentalDog.com. If you’re as big a fan of http://AgonyBooth.com as I am, you already have an idea of what I’m going for.

Day 19: Peeping Tom (1960) There was a lot to laugh at and a lot to admire, but I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again.

Day 20: Planet of the Vampires (1965) A movie that is as important as it is ludicrous, I’d love to go back and do more of an in-depth critique of this film. This one would probably be fun to watch with friends.

Day 21: Ringu (1998) The one I realized I never wrote an article for. I’d been wanting to see this film for years. Now that I have, I can compare it with the American remake, which I love. I may go back and explore these two films in an actual complete article.

Day 22: The Last House on the Left (1972) One of the biggest surprises of the month, in how poorly made a movie it is. I’ve heard that it’s a must-see in the horror genre, but it’s really not. And it’s too unpleasant to be fun for a group or for a scene-by-scene recap. As far as the video response goes, there were apparently a few people who watched it without having watched my video response for Ringu. I appreciate everybody almost calling to make sure I was okay.

Day 23: Fido (2006) I’d been waiting for a real good zombie flick, and Fido delivered. The messy ending and some less-good performances kept it from perfection, but I’d watch it again anytime. And it’s a PG-13 zombie film, which is just weird.

Day 24: The Masque of the Red Death (1964) I’d recommend this film for just about anyone. It’s well enough constructed to be respectable, but there’s also plenty to have fun with. I might like to revisit this one for a more in-depth look someday.

Day 25: Empire of the Ants (1977) This was one of the most ludicrous films I watched this month, but it would be a lot of fun to watch with a group of friends or to do an extended review of. I totally forgot about all those fake giant ants I had sitting around when I did the video response. Oh well.

Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Another respectable but slightly-cheesy flick I’d watch again, especially with a group.

Day 27: The Washingtonians (2007) I paid the price for cheating on choosing the next movie title out of my jack-o-lantern in the previous YouTube video, because this movie was awful in every way. I don’t think I could tolerate sitting through it again.

Day 28: Cat’s Eye (1985) Much like Fright Night, I was much more into this movie at the end than I was in the beginning. This would be fun to watch with a group. Also, a note on my YouTube video: I learned that the deep guttural growl of a cat does not pick up on my laptop mic, so while my cat sounded really pissed off to me, to the audience it looks like I’m just holding a silent cat. Oh well. Crazy is as crazy does, I guess.

Day 29: Attack of the Puppet People (1958) I’m glad I got to bring back Shakes and Lefty for this one, because they are much more interesting than I am in the videos. Attack would be fun to do a more in-depth review of. Maybe someday.

Day 30: Sugar Hill (1974) I did not choose Sugar Hill at random. I did it as a present to my friends who chose it for my jack-o-lantern and kept mentioning how much they wished it would come up. They may be underwhelmed, though, because I enjoyed the movie alright. Sorry, honks, it wasn’t nearly as awful as you were hoping.

I am so happy to be done with this so I can start watching other movies I’ve been wanting to watch. Between watching the movies, preparing and recording the YouTube videos, and writing the articles, it took roughly four hours per movie, so this frees up my time a fair bit. One final thing I’d been wanting to do is some sort of a Top Horror list, so what I did was, I went back through all the titles available for instant streaming on Netflix and chose what I consider to be the 31 best horror films (out of what I’ve seen–there still are a ton of horror flicks on there I’ve never watched).

Some are relentlessly horrific. Some aren’t specifically horror films but still have a strong element of horror in some aspect of the narrative. Here are my Top 31 picks (an asterisk indicates a title from the 30 Days of Madness):

1. Aliens (1986)

2. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

3. The Black Cat (2007)*

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

4. The Call of Cthulhu (2005)*

5. Carrie (1976)

6. Child’s Play (1988)

7. The Crazies (2010)

8. Creepshow (1982)

9. Diabolique (1955)

10. District 9 (2009)

11. The Exorcist (1973)

12. Fido (2006)*

13. The Fly (1986)*

14. The Host (2006)

15. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

16. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)*

17. Jaws (1975)

18. Lo (2009)*

19. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

21. Nosferatu (1922)

22. Pandorum (2009)*

23. Paranormal Activity (2007)

24. Peeping Tom (1960)*

25. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)*

26. Reign of Fire (2002)

27. Signs (2002)

28. The Sixth Sense (1999)

29. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

30. Them! (1954)

31. Zombieland (2009)

Thank you Alban, Nate, and Steve for your support this past month, and to everyone else who left encouraging comments along the way. Thanks to Cindy (my dog) and Putty and Kunj (my cats) for their appearances, and special thanks to Jack-o, Shakes, and Lefty. Finally, thank you to the film makers whose good films made the bad ones more bearable. Happy Halloween.

–Tom Kapr

James Cameron, Part I: An Overview of the Career of a Visual Effects Auteur

By Nathanael Griffis

With the re-release of Avatar into theaters this past summer, to the simultaneous groans and cheers of fans and critics alike, I found myself thinking about James Cameron. Perhaps he forces me to think about him by loftily describing his personal achievements as world-shaking. The hubris of the artist, though, is not enough to retract my fascination. To some this might feel too late, Avatar was last Christmas, but I believe distance from the film will lend itself to more honest criticism. And so, I want to take a look Cameron’s influence on visual effects throughout his earlier work and implications of such on the resurgence of 3D technology in film.

James Cameron is not exactly a prolific filmmaker–although not as slow as, say, Terrence Malick. Still, Cameron’s films wield such influence that it is worth one’s time to look at each. It all started with The Terminator, about as good a debut as one can have. Utilizing Harryhausen-esque stop-motion, makeup courtesy of Stan Winston, and a perfect combination of models and stuntwork to create the final robot, Cameron delivered chilling action scenes. (Luckily for him, a robot jostling forward in stop-motion looks natural.)

With Aliens, which some content is an improvement over Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Cameron showed a mastery of physical effects. He did simple things, like turning the camera upside-down to make the aliens appear to climb across the ceiling. Actual weather was used on massive, detailed models. Add all that to the magnum opus of expert puppeteer work and foreground miniatures in the final battle with the alien queen. These amazing special effects are perfectly combined with beam- and film-splitting and rear projection.

Cameron’s early work demonstrated a penchant for action choreography that arguably will never be matched, especially in Terminator 2. But before we reach that monumental film, let us not forget The Abyss. Cameron showed us the wonder of the world around us and the mysteries it could hold in this tense underwater thriller. The film developed new facial recognition techniques for the pseudopod sequence that revolutionized CGI (computer graphics imaging) and paved the way for future effects auteurs, especially Peter Jackson and his Gollum. The film also showed that Cameron hadn’t yet abandoned practical effects. He built an entire underwater set in an unused nuclear reactor and accomplished underwater shots that have never been re-attempted in over 20 years.

Terminator 2 was next and and provided a visual feast for the eyes both in terms of physical stuntwork and CGI effects. The film’s numerous chase and fight scenes flawlessly blended Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance with a CGI liquid terminator, countless explosions (actually, you could probably count them), and excellent makeup from Stan Winston. The film still stands as one of the best uses of CGI and doesn’t merely rival modern techniques but in many cases shames them.

Titanic is a similar example of physical and CGI effects perfectly combined. The sinking cruise ship is amazing to watch, as CGI people tumble off and plummet into the sea below. It is equally engaging as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet race through the sinking ship with hundreds of gallons of water bursting through elevators and unsealed shafts.

On the whole, Cameron has most assuredly changed the landscape of film and visual effects. He’s shown a talent for taking action-thrillers and elevating them to a finer level of art through a meticulous concern for the visual. His films have not been overtly resonant thematically, with the exception of Titanic, but they resonate on some other level inside us. It’s good entertainment; it’s intrinsic quality; it’s viewing an exciting, beautiful image; it’s a dedication to accomplishing the impossible. In these, Cameron is a master.

The question remains, though: Does Avatar improve or impair an already amazing filmography?

–Nathanael Griffis