A priest, a cop, and a heroin addict walk into The Mist...
Last night we watched the sixth episode of Spike Television's horror serial The Mist, and though we weren't going to weigh in on the show, we got frustrated enough to bang out this write-up labeling it what it is—a disappointment. Which is too bad, because the Stephen King novella sourced for the series might be the best thing he ever wrote. It's hard to know where to begin discussing the show, so we'll start not with that, but with its medium. Television has changed. Where the real talent once gravitated toward cinema, today some of the best conceptualizing and writing is on television, as top creatives are driven to the small screen because movie studios are almost wholly focused on puerile superhero movies and juvenile comedies. Television is where The Wire, Game of Thrones, and Fargo made indelible marks on American culture. Hell, we can even go back to The Sopranos for an early example. The point is you have to bring your A-game.
But the creator of The Mist, Danish writer-director Christian Torpe, took one of Stephen King's best works, adapted it to a medium that is incredibly receptive to serialized horror, and blew it. King is credited as a writer on all ten episodes, but that's only a nod to him as the originator of the source material. He wasn't involved in the new teleplays, and they're spectacularly botched, put together by the worst kind of horror writers—those who force the characters to serve the convolutions of the plot rather than their own need for self preservation.
We'll give you an example. When a priest and a ’60s flower child disagree on whether the mist is sent by God or is a manifestation of Nature-with-a-capital-N, they decide to both walk into it to see which of them is spared. This is a mist filled with creatures that have caused the most painful deaths imaginable, but ho hum, they have a spiritual pissing match they need to settle, so into it they go, and a group of bystanders allows this lunacy to occur without raising an objection. Maybe next time they're at the zoo they can leap into the lion enclosure to see whether razor sharp claws and fangs are God or Nature.
In another example of the same terrible writing, a group stuck in a mall comes up with a set of rules to ration food and keep order. That's fine. The punishment for breaking any of the rules is expulsion from the mall. That's not fine. That's a sentence of death for even minor infractions, and this has been agreed upon by characters isolated for only a day or two, far too little time to go full Lord of the Flies. Under those circumstances virtually any normal person would say, “No, we don't agree that expulsion from the mall is a fair punishment, and if you get anywhere near us we're going to use a three wood from Dick's Sporting Goods on your cranium.” Those disinclined toward violence would perhaps say, “You know what—this mall is massive, so you have your crazy old testament punishment zone here, and we'll just hang out in the Cinnabon at the far end.”
Another issue with The Mist is that the characters are diverse in unrealistic and manipulative ways. See if this sounds like the beginning of a joke to you: there's a priest, a cop, a heroin addict, a jock, a hippie, and a bully. In the best television shows the characters are very much the same when you meet them, but their differences manifest over time because of who they are inside—not due to the uniforms they wear. In The Mist the cop wears a uniform and the priest wears a different uniform and the solider wears a still different uniform, but no less obvious are the uniforms worn by the flower child (sun dress and pants), the gay kid (eyeliner), the heroin addict (sweat), and the good girl (virginal white skin). Even many of the minor characters are written as clichés. Compare that to a show like The Walking Dead. In season one what is the difference between the two major characters Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh? There is none, except one is duplicitous and one is honorable. What is the main difference between Rick and Carol? It's not their sex. It's that she's more easily capable of cruelty for what she feels is right. What is the difference between Carol and Morgan? It isn't their skin. It's that he abhors lethal violence and has to come to grips with its necessity. Their differences are internal, and watching them revealed is one of the joys of the show. But in The Mist the uniforms—literal and figurative—are there to do the work the writers were too lazy to manage.
Basically, there are no genuine surprises in the way The Mist's characters develop. The cop becomes an authoritarian but later seems to climb down from total assholery. The priest at first seems reasonable but eventually decides he must impose his faith on others. The heroin addict clings to worldly pursuits like money and being high, but later decides she needs to kick. She does this, by the way, in a sequence bracketed by a standoff and fight elsewhere in the building. She'd said the process of medically assisted detox would take five or six hours. As two characters elsewhere in the building argue, she's tied to a bed, where she sweats and screams, and is later untied, presumably five or six hours later. Then we cut back to the argument, which shortly turns into a fight. Did those two argue for five hours? It's the type of egregious timelime weirdness you see only in badly made shows, and it's symptomatic of the lack of deep thought behind The Mist. We stuck with it for more than half its ten episode run, but now we're giving up. It's clear the writers aren't going to overcome any of the show's problems in the next four episodes.
In a place like Atlantic City there's always one more chance.
The poster you see above was painted by the Spanish artist Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who signed his work as Jano. As you can see, it was to promote Louis Malle's drama Atlantic City, U.S.A. Most sites call the film just Atlantic City, but we're going with what the opening credits called it. Though the movie starred U.S. performers and tends to be thought of as an American effort, it was French produced and premiered all over Europe in 1980 before reaching the States in 1981. It opened in Spain today in 1980 and tells the story of a sixty-something minor crook who finds himself involved with twenty-something hustlers and their sale of stolen drugs. Circumstances place both the party favors and the profits in his hands, and he suddenly has a chance to be the big time mobster he never was.
Not only did Atlantic City, U.S.A. win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it's one of the few movies to be nominated for all five major Academy Awards—Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. With a résumé like that we don't have to tell you the movie is good. Watch it. You'll like it. The woman on the poster, by the way, looks nothing like Susan Sarandon, but it was early in Sarandon's career, and we suspect Jano wasn't too invested in getting her likeness correct. It was within his capability, certainly—his Lancaster looks great. We don't know why he got Sarandon wrong. Considering how famous she eventually became, we have a feeling he wished he'd done better.
Humans aren't highest on the food chain anymore.
Above, a West German poster for Joe Dante's groundbreaking werewolf movie The Howling, which we discussed in detail back in May. We found the art on this promo rather weird and thought it would be a worthwhile share. The movie premiered in West Germany as Das Tier—The Animal—today in 1981.
Nikktasu's revitalized roman porno screens for NYC audiences.
Today in New York City at the New York Asian Film Festival, two productions from Nikkatsu Studios' ballyhooed Roman Porno Reboot Project will screen for audiences. The Reboot Project was announced last year, and includes major directors such as Hideo Nakata of Ringu fame, Sion Sono of Cold Fish and Tokyo Tribe, and Kazuya Shiraishi, who made The Devil’s Path. Three films will be included in the New York fest, which began several days ago—Kazuya Shiraishi's Mesunekotachi, aka Dawn of the Felines, and Akihiko Shiota's Kaze ni nureta onna, aka Wet Woman in the Wind, will screen today. Isao Yukisada's Gymnopedies ni Midareru, aka Aroused by Gymnopédies premieres on July 14.
Will these be as edgy as Nikkatsu's vintage roman porno offerings? We have our doubts—some of those movies indugle in excesses so extreme we're amazed they're even available on DVD. We expect the new roman porno to be milder but perhaps contain a modern feminist twist, a shift in point-of-view that would be welcome, at least to us. All three of the movies playing in NYC have already seen release in Japan and gotten decent reviews, which means festival audiences should find something enjoyable in them. If you're in the Big Apple area you now have a potential plan for the next ten days. As for us folks who live far across the ocean, hopefully we'll get a chance to see some of the films soon as well, and if we do we'll certainly report back.
Sharp curves and unexpected twists in road next 1,000 miles.
Every once in a while we come across a pleasant surprise of a film and Road Games is an example of that perfect nexus where no expectations meet good filmmaking to greatly improve our day. Starring Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, Road Games is about an American hitchhiker making her way across the Australian outback the same time a depraved serial killer is loose on the road. She's picked up by truck driver Keach and the two of them come to believe they're following the same route across the country as the murderer. Keach and Curtis are great in this. Even though Curtis's attraction to a porno mustached forty-something can only be explained as a case of outback fever, the May/December storyline is deftly handled and reasonably believable, and the entire movie is given extra dimensionality by vast Australian vistas and witty dialogue. We highly recommend this one. It seems to have been mismarketed as a horror movie back in its day, but really it's just a thriller. Straightforward, well made, and starring two appealing performers, Road Games premiered in Australia today in 1981. You see the Aussie poster above, while the U.S. promo, along with some production photos, is below.
If it's there you can bet we'll find it.
Above you see a poster for Aizome Kyôko: G no kaikan, aka Kyôko Aizome's G-spot Pleasure, with Kyôko Aizome (not to be confused with Kyoko Izumi) fronting the art. Aizome goes way back. She appeared in her first film in 1975, but this particular effort premiered in Japan today in 2000, when she was forty-two. Though it's a comparatively recent production we were not able to track down a copy, which when you think about it is apropos, considering science says g-spots don't really exist. We're pro-science guys, but a lot of women say there's a real piece of anatomy in there, and a dedicated search often turns something up—if only the woman's heart rate. Aizome, below, suggests you give it a try.
Low visibility and even lower survivability.
Yes, we're tripling up on films this lovely Thursday because all three premiered today in some year or other. This third poster is the Spanish promo painted by Macario Gomez for John Carpenter's horror flick The Fog, about a town beset by a ghost ship filled with murderous lepers. It's an oldie but a goodie, we'd say, with Jamie Lee Curtis, her real life mom Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, and Hal Holbrook. Couple of takeaways from this one—Jamie Lee will hook up with any old schlub, and haunted fog really scoots. Think you can outrun it? Forget it. If you hated the 2005 remake (and who didn't) give this one a try. There are some legit chills here. The Fog premiered as La niebla in Spain today in 1980.
All jerks and no play make Linda a very dull movie.
Some of the other titles of the West German sexploitation flick Linda are Captive Women, Naked Super Witches of the Rio Amore, and Orgy of the Nymphomaniacs. Those should tell you everything about the content of this movie. Plotwise, it involves a woman forced to work as a prostitute at a bdsm brothel on the island of Madeira, Portugal. How that actually happens doesn't much matter. The circumstances are ridiculous, and not at all the point. The point is nudity, which is delivered often and steadily. Characterwise, almost every man in the film deserves to be drawn and quartered, which makes it too bad that doesn't actually happen. It's actually a scorpion that turns the tide and allows the heroine to finally escape.
The movie is notable really for only two things: it was one of more than 100 productions helmed by Jesus Franco, that misunderstood genius, and it features 1979 Playboy centerfold Ursula Buchfellner, billed here as Ursula Fellner. Three things, actually: it's as humorless a sexploitation flick as we've ever seen. Even Katja Bienert in the title role can't save it. No way we can recommend this one, but we wanted to show you the Italian promo poster. It has the look of pieces painted by Mafé, but he signed all his work, as far as we know, so this must just be a convincing imitation. Linda premiered in West Germany for the first time today in 1981, and don't say we didn't try to steer you away.
Bonus material: just for the hell of it, just because they exist, we've uploaded a couple of promo shots of Bienert and Buchfellner below. Their names together sound kind of like a cop show, like a prime time drama where every problem is solved within an hour. We think it would have been a hit, because they've solved our problems in just a couple of minutes. But our previous advice holds true: don't watch the movie.
It isn't the wind making that howling noise.
Above you see two colorful Japanese posters for The Howling, Joe Dante's 1981 werewolf thriller starring Dee Stone, Patrick Macnee, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers hero Kevin McCarthy. As werewolf movies go, The Howling was a bit of a gamechanger simply because the principle werewolf was more terrifying than any that had been put on screen to that point. It looks more than anything like a ten-foot tall Wile E. Coyote, with a long crooked snout, and devilish ears that stick out from its head like horns. Covered with wiry hair and perched upon long canine legs like a walking dog, the brute physicality of this beast is cringe inducing. On the other hand, the ancillary werewolves might make you laugh. The filmmakers obviously wanted to genderize the creatures, which led to the idea of making the female wolves somehow cute. Instead they end up looking like Ewoks. The giallo-styled soundtrack might also be jarring for modern audiences. We love it, though it's right in your face like doggie breath.
But the film is definitely worth watching these thirty-six years later. The plot involves a television reporter whose investigation into serial killings in New York City result in her—seemingly in random fashion—spending time in a rural retreat to recover from emotional trauma. There she realizes a coven of werewolves rule the woods. Dante went for a slow build-up to the big reveal, and when that first encounter came it forever recalibrated the werewolf genre. Today some of the balloon effects may look quaint, but objectively they're more visceral than anything computer graphics have managed thus far. Other effects, including a brief animation, aren't as convincing, but no movie is perfect. The Howling is a landmark, and our only regret is we were never able to see it in a cinema (though that may change if ever our local horror festival screens it). The film premiered in the U.S. in March 1981, and first howled across Japan today the same year.
In retrospect, maybe this solo hiking trip wasn't the best idea. Oh well, I'll be fine. But next year: Burning Man.
Hmm. So she disappeared down there in that bizarre nimbus of light? I think it's about time for my donut break.
Okay, okay! Let me just find the leash and we'll go. Geez—sometimes I can't tell who's the owner and who's the pet.
Arooooooo! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Baaaaacooooon!
So, you loaded this with the silver bullets, right? Right? Baby, did you hear me?
Well, the thing is, werewolfing helps me relax. Fronting my speedmetal band is really stressful.
I think the night went bad after the third Jäger shot. Could be worse, though. Garth got a tribal tattoo on his calf. Man, these beasts are seriously horr— Whoa. Single white werewolf at twelve o'clock. Bitch got some fucked up teeth but I can work with that.
Cohjizukin creates a modern piece of poster art for two classic films.
You know how we always say we're going to get back to something? Some artist, some subject, some mid-century murder spree? And then we never do? Kind of like when you were eight and your parents kept promising to let you buy a grizzly bear but always put you off until finally telling you they weren't going to buy you one and never planned to? Well, we don't want to be like your lying ass parents, so we've decided we need to be better about actually geting back to stuff we said we'd get back to. Consider it a twelve-step program of sorts, which we already started by keeping that five-year old promise about the naked diaries.
So here's someone else we promised to revisit—Japanese illustrator Cohjizukin, whose poster for an Ed Wood triple bill we shared back in October. He painted the above poster for Federico Fellini's I vitelloni, known in some circles as The Young and the Passionate, and Giulietta degli spiriti, aka Juliet of the Spirits. We knew nothing about Cohjizukin last year, but we've learned a few things. He's actually award winning artist Koju Suzuki, who was born in 1948, has had innumerable exhibitions, live painting events, published many books, and seemingly even has delved into music, releasing four albums in the 1990s.
He also likes creepy eyes. Everybody in this poster looks like they're trying to drain your vital essence. We checked to see if either of these movies involved essence-draining, but they're both comedy/dramas. Not sure Fellini would have approved of psycho faces on a poster for his films, but the art is amazing. Cohjizukin created it for a double-bill sometime during the 1990s, probably for some film festival or other. You can learn more about him by visiting the (also a bit scary) website maintained at this link, but it's text heavy and without Japanese probably useless to you. We'll dig up more pieces from him later. That's a promise we'll keep. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
1953—Mohammed Mossadegh Overthrown in Iran
At the instigation of the CIA, Prime Minster of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh is overthrown and the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is installed as leader of the country.
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