IN CONVERSATION: CYNTHIA LOYST & THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE

It isn’t much a of a stretch to call Cynthia Loyst a “renaissance woman”. Currently one of the hosts on CTV’s THE SOCIAL, Cynthia has been working both in front of the camera (including hosting duties on Space’s INNERSPACE) and behind the scenes ( producing as well as hosting City TV’s SEX MATTERS & SEX TV) as one of Canada’s most well-known and respected media personalities. She’s been a keynote speaker and guest lecturer at colleges and universities. She’s received numerous awards and commendations for her work in sex-education and is also a  member of SIECCAN (The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada) and a graduate of The University Of Michigan’s sex education program. And she’s not done yet, as she’s embarked on her most ambitious project yet: Find Your Pleasure.

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In her words, FYP is ” a space dedicated to candid talk about love, sex, and the relationships that mean the most to us. And because pleasure is about so much more than great sex, it’s also about sensual living – and the everyday joys that we can all be thankful for. ”

In between recent speaking engagements and her daily gig with THE SOCIAL, I was able to get some time to talk to Cynthia about life and pleasure – where to find it, how to get it, as well as working it into one’s regular routine.

What was the impetus to start FYP?

Well, when we first launched The Social, I had just given birth a few months before hand, so I was not only sleep deprived but very hormonal.  Even though I loved working on the show, I also felt quite conflicted about leaving my young son every day.  I was also rushing around trying to be AMAZING at everything: I wanted to be an amazing host, I wanted to be an amazing partner and, of course, I needed to be an amazing mom. And inside, I felt miserable.

It all caught up to me when a few months into working on the show, I had a minor panic attack live on the air. No one knew, and I didn’t tell anyone even afterwards but it was a real wake-up call for me.

The thing was, logically, I knew there were all kinds of things in my life to be happy about and thankful for. But I was drowning in “must-dos” and “should-dos” and general ennui about life. I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I did something I loved JUST FOR ME. When I started asking my friends about this, I discovered it was the exact same thing for them. So I started to do a deep dive on pleasure and realized that it is a super fascinating and highly complex topic. And that eventually led to the website.

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The launch party for Find Your Pleasure, February 8, 2017, held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

Sexuality forms a large component of FYP’s coverage. While we’ve become very open in discussing sex, as far as gender identity and equality, we still get squeamish when talking about the act itself. Do you still see self-repression among the masses, or are we finally getting over the hump?

In some ways the conversation around sexuality and gender has really progressed…I’m part of an online mothers’ group in my ‘hood and I’m so happy when I see them often sharing articles about sex education or about transgender youth.  But in some ways, we are still so far behind.  I have written an advice column for years and I still get the same types of questions over and over again which basically circle around this idea of “normalcy.”  People are super concerned if they are having the “right” kinds of sex or “enough” sex or making sure that their fantasies or desires aren’t too out there. There’s the side that we think we should show to the world and the side that we show to a lover and then there’s the side that we only show to ourselves.  If there’s one thing I hope that I get through to people is that everyone is unique. As long as you approach sexuality with the safe, sane and consensual mantra, the most important thing is to find out what pleasure looks like to you.

You lead a very busy life. How do YOU juggle all of that and still find the time to take part in life’s simple pleasures?

I have to shut down sometimes.  I just got back from a 9-day cruise and I just turned off my phone. It was hard but it was also so rejuvenating.  But I also have recently been researching about other people’s morning rituals and trying to come up with my own. Like, did you know that Benjamin Franklin used to take an “air bath” every morning? I know you’re wondering: what the heck is that? He would go out into the cold air – naked – and wander around (I’m assuming he had no neighbours or maybe he was an exhibitionist?) and then slip back into bed for an hour to have another short nap before starting his work for the day. I like the idea of having a little daily ritual to ground myself for the day. I highly doubt mine will look like that though.

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The simple things, the little pleasures in life – which ones get you through your day?

My morning coffee that I make every morning from fresh beans and sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon. Getting outside and going for a bike ride along the lakeshore. Painting rocks with my son and just listening to his sweet, crackly voice.  Playing board games with my other half or having a scotch with him at the end of the day. Cooking strange recipes. Going for long walks in the woods. Getting to bed early to read or to just luxuriate in the coziness of it all. Reflecting at the end of a day on everything that I am grateful for.

What are the plans for FYP’s expansion?

I want to start a pleasure revolution!  I have been loving doing speaking engagements and hope to one day write a book.  I think pleasure has often been seen as the bad cousin of happiness. I’m here to preach the importance of pleasure because it is intimately connected to happiness – you can’t have one without the other.

Cynthia Loyst can be seen on THE SOCIAL weekdays (and Saturdays) on CTV and CTV TWO – check local listings for times. She can also be heard Wednesdays mornings as Virgin Radio Toronto‘s weekly sex expert.

FIND YOUR PLEASURE can be found on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

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IT’S EVOLUTION, BABY: 20 YEARS OF GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S MIMIC

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Published February 10th, 2017 for Blumhouse.com

It’s an all-too familiar story: internationally-acclaimed director, hot off the success of their debut film, courted by Hollywood with the promise of success, only to end up getting chewed up and spit out by the system. It’s happened to the best of them. Including Guillermo Del Toro, with his studio directorial debut, MIMIC, which debuted 20 years ago.

Having gained much acclaim for his first feature, CRONOS, Del Toro was approached by The Weinstein Brothers to contribute a segment for a planned sci-fi anthology film. When that project was scrapped, MIMIC was bumped up to feature status. Written in collaboration with Matthew Robbins and loosely based on the short story by Donald A. Wollheim, MIMIC takes us just ever-so-slightly into the future. A new plague has come, borne on the back of the common cockroach and laying waste to Manhattan’s child population. In an effort to stop it at the source, scientists led by entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino, still fresh off her Oscar win for MIGHTY APHRODITE) create a new hybrid insect – The Judas Breed, spliced together from mantis and termite DNA – to infiltrate, assimilate into and destroy the cockroach population with a secreted poison. The Judas Breed are custom built for this job alone, with a built in “one generation” expiration date. But, as with all best-laid plans of mice and men, nature’s got other ideas in mind. The Judas survive. And grow. And blend themselves into the city to get closer to their next prey: us.

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MIMIC had all the elements in place: a solid cast, a great “there are things man should not tamper with” premise and a hot new visionary in Del Toro at the helm. Alas, the film opened to middling reviews and a final box-office haul that nearly undid hiss Hollywood aspirations before he even got out of the gate. And, in hindsight, it seems downright odd that there was a time where he would ever be labelled “mediocre” (let’s be honest – the man’s work is too grandiose and operatic to warrant that label). In the end, MIMIC is a serviceable B-movie creature feature, with a little more smarts and art under the hood than most of its cinematic brethren. There was a restored director’s cut issued in 2011 which brought the film closer to his intended narrative pace and vision. But even without the additional footage, with all the studio interference and changes mandated by The Weinstein Brothers, there’s enough on view in MIMIC’s original cut that’s worth talking about. Specifically, the first traces of the themes and motifs that would thread through his movies like celluloid DNA.

TORONTO: MIMIC would be the first film Del Toro would shoot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It wouldn’t be the last, either. PACIFIC RIM, CRIMSON PEAK and his recently-wrapped THE SHAPE OF WATER were all filmed in Canada’s largest city.  Toronto has long stood in for any of America’s larger metropoli, but Del Toro also makes a point of filming there because… well, he just likes it so much, as he stated in an interview with The Toronto Star:

I love the city, I love the (film) crews first of all. I love the people and then I love the city…I think it’s the most livable city. The food is amazing, the cultural life is amazing, the urban life is amazing and what is great is it’s a city, a proper city. It’s not a big town or a wannabe. I love this city.

LOVE (FOR) BUGS: As an amateur etymologist, Del Toro’s affinity for insects runs through all his works. Whether overtly ( the fairies in both PAN’S LABYRINTH and HELLBOY II) to the less-obvious ( the hive-mind social structure of BLADE II’s Reapers and THE STRAIN’s Strigoi), his fascination with insects made MIMIC a custom-fit for his sensibilities. When talking about The Judas Breed (and the experience of filming MIMIC) in the book, GUILLERMO DEL TORO:  CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, Guillermo shows reverence and appreciation for both the fictional and real insect kingdom .“The insects in Mimic were all organic, but mankind needed glasses, artificial limbs. The mimics are the perfect ones, not us…I do happen to believe that insects, as far as form and function, are the most perfect—albeit soulless—creatures of creation.”

 

 

DOUG JONES: Burton and Depp. Scorsese and DeNiro. Hitchcock and Stewart. When an actor and director click, collaboration becomes a recurring thing such is the case with Del Toro and actor Doug Jones. Jones has appeared in several GDT films, often in multiple roles. But it all started here with his appearance as one of the film’s insect “Long Johns (“Long John Number 2”, to be precise).

Whether it’s as PAN’S LABYRINTH’s The Faun or The Pale Man or HELLBOY’s Abe Sapien or his role in the upcoming THE SHAPE OF WATER,  Jones has been an integral part of Del Toro’s world-building. There are many reasons that some actors and directors inevitably forma tag-team dynamic. Leave it to Del Toro, though, to put it as succinctly as only he can on Twitter:

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FAMILY: the relationships between generations old and young often form the backbone of Del Toro’s movies, specifically an older paternal figure with a young child or grandchild. While this started right off the bat in CRONOS with the loving and unconditional love between Jesus Gris and his granddaughter, MIMIC continues that thematic thread with the old shoeshine man, Manny (Giancarlo Giannini) , and his autistic son, Chui (Alexander Goodwin, below). When the boy is taken in by the LongJohns – attracted to him by his habitual spoon-playing, which ‘mimics’ their communicative clicks – Manny goes into the metaphorical bowels of hell ( the sewers below New York) to rescue him. It’s a narrative that gives the story its heart, and one that would continue to appear in subsequent films. From the father/child dynamics of Hellboy & Professor Broom (HELLBOY), Stacker Pentacost & Mako Mori (PACIFIC RIM) and Carter Cushing & his daughter, Edith (CRIMSON PEAK), the bond between elder and child is the lynchpin that holds his narratives together.

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“BEAUTIFUL DECAY”: every director has their trademark visual motif. Burton has his spin on German Expressionism. Wes Anderson’s work is defined by both his specific colour palette and razor-sharp symmetry. For Del Toro, one such recurring visual signature is an aesthetic that can only be described as “beautiful decay”. It’s in MIMIC that we get to see Del Toro’s first swing at this blend of architectural deterioration and fairy tale-like surrealism. Where the film starts out in the standard urban environs of New York, it takes on a more decidedly artistic flair as our characters go deeper underground to face off against the Judas Breed. The walls are coated with mildew and rust. Machinery, long left to decay in the abandoned subway tunnels takes on the appearance of urban fossils, technology of a bygone era. This aesthetic has become a mainstay in his filmography – informing the design of both HELLBOY films and BLADE II, before reaching its pinnacle in CRIMSON PEAK’s opulently deteriorating Gothic estate – and it’s arguably here where viewers got their first taste of it.

 

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Perhaps more importantly than all these ongoing aesthetic choices, though, it was Del Toro’s experience in making MIMIC that gave him one of the most important lessons a creator can learn: failure and the politics of studio filmmaking. Del Toro approached the project with loftier themes in mind – most specifically, humanity’s failure as a species and its replacement by a species engineered for evolution – but was hamstrung by producers and a studio who wanted the final product to be a little more ‘accessible’. In CABINET OF CURIOSITIES’ chapter on MIMIC, Del Toro tells of how the first shot in the film, an elaborate shot of a children’s ward, became a source of contention.

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It was the first day of shooting of MIMIC, and I thought it was a very beautiful, a very striking image…It was the first image that got me into deeper trouble because some of the producers hated that image from the start. They said ‘It doesn’t look like a real hospital. It looks like something off another planet. What are you doing? Are you making an art film out of a B-movie bug picture?’ And I said to them, ‘Well, I think they are one and the same. I think they are one and the same…it was a losing proposition from the get-go.

They say the hardest lessons are the most important, and MIMIC was the hardest one yet for Del Toro. In the end, the film was taken out of his hands and recut by the studio for its theatrical release. And yes, the 2011 Director’s Cut does its part in salvaging the original vision for the story, but the experience itself left an indelible impression on him and galavanized him for the rest of his career. From here on in, clarity of vision would always supercede compromise, be it for love or money.

“This is a struggle you have as an artist. Hellboy, in HELLBOY II, when he shoots the elemental, he’s shooting it because he wants people to like him…and they boo him and throw stones at him. As an artist, I’ve gone through that. You say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do what people like.’ I go and make a commercial movie like MIMIC, and it’s a huge hurt in my life. Then when you go and do the hard choice, there’s a reward in there.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
Miramax Films

INTERVIEW PASSAGES COURTESY OF:
The Toronto Star 
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (HaperCollins Press, 2013)

Terror Toys: Five Horror Franchises Worthy of Their Own Action Figures

bannerPublished February 21, 2017 on blumhouse.com

Toys. Action Figures. Collectibles. If there’s a movie or TV series with even a modicum of popularity, chances are there’s some form of plastic totem, ranging from the cute and kitschy Funko figures to the insanely articulated and intricate work from Hot Toys.

But while superhero franchises and sci-fi blockbusters take up a sizable chunk of real estate at your local toy or comic shop, horror seems to get short shrift. Oh sure, there’s multiple variations on the holy slasher trinity – Leatherface, Freddy and Michael – but the lack of variety is glaringly obvious. So, it is with only partial bias that I present a list of franchises waiting for their chance to decorate your shelves. In no particular order…

breedNIGHTBREED: A”no-brainer” and long overdue. Clive Barker’s 1990 cult classic has been screaming for a toy line for decades. With a newfound appreciation among horror fans, and a restored Director’s Cut that features even MORE monsters, it’s high time someone stepped up on this property. Barker’s flagship property, HELLRAISER, had a phenomenal and extensive line of figures through NECA, covering the first four films in the series which means a few variations of Pinhead in the mix. Hell, McFarlane Toys also had Candyman as part of their Movie Maniacs line. But NIGHTBREED, with its monster-heavy cast of characters? Not a one. So to get things started, which characters would make up a hypothetical “first wave”? Protagonists Boone and Lori, obviously. Sharp-dressed serial killer, Dr. Decker, would be a neccesity. Breed members, Peloquin & Kinski (pictured above) and mother-daughter two pack, Rachel and Babette. Round out the set with ex-preacher/ Big Bad In Waiting, Ashberry, and Wave One is a done deal. Future waves could put other characters in the spotlight – the brutish Berserkers, Midian’s lawgiver, Lylesburg, and ebony-skinned devil, Lude, for example. The potential is there. And I’ve wanted a Peloquin figure since 1990…. but I digress…

 

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KRAMPUS: Mike Dougherty has a knack for the iconic. His directorial debut, 1997’s TRICK R TREAT, gave us Sam, the sack-headed onesie-wearing Spirit of Halloween that has (and still is) generated multiple types and sizes of figures. So it’s a little more than surprising that we never got the same from his 2015 follow-up, KRAMPUS, because Holy Moley… this clutch of Christmas-themed creeps is custom-made for your shelf. While WETA Workshop put out a line of high-end sculptures for the film, let’s talk about a KRAMPUS toy line that’s affordable and accessible. A three-pack of Psychotic Gingerbread Men? The banshee-like Treetop Angel? The child-eating Jack-In-The-Box? Let’s have ’em all.And we can’t forget the big, bad Anti-Claus himself, can we? The film’s only a couple of years old and, while it doesn’t have the cult cache of TRICK R TREAT (yet), there’s enough monster madness to warrant a sizable line of figures and collectibles. Perhaps just in time for Christmas?

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PREACHER: Now, it bares mentioning that while DC/Vertigo did have a line of figures depicting the characters as they appeared in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s acclaimed comic series, we’re looking at the versions of the characters as seen on AMC’s new small-screen adpatation. NECA has started the ball rolling with figures of the titular lead, Jesse Custer, and his ne’er-do-well Irish vampire buddy, Cassidy. But we need to start looking at an expansion. Jesse’s troublesome ex, Tulip, the supernatural Saint Of Killers and (eventually) the series big bad, Herr Starr. Throw in Arseface and tag-team angelic “problem solvers” Fiore and DeBlanc, and you’ve got yourself a good starting line-up.And with NINE volumes of the comics to adapt for future seasons, there are a lot more characters waiting in the wings.
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PAN’S LABYRINTH: It’s not often an Academy Award nominated foreign language film warrants a toy line. PAN’S LABYRINTH is the exception to the rule. The iconic designs of The Faun and The Pale Man lend themselves to collectible-status and while there have been deluxe high-end (and high-priced) sculptures of these characters by Gentle Giant, this time we’re talking posable action figures. Because brevity is wit, the line-up is simple: The Faun, The Pale Man and the movie’s heroine. Ofelia. If we want to get a little more completist here, we can throw in “evil stepfather”, Captain Vidal. But focusing on the main three mentioned above would be more than sufficient. Give this license to a high-end producer like Sideshow Collectibles or Hot Toys – prestige sculptors for a prestige property – and you’ve got yourself a line of collectibles that will class up any toy shelf.

I also wouldn’t say no to a “Fig Tree” playset complete with gigantic toad. But I’m not greedy –  I’ll take what I can get.
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THE STRAIN: Sure, THE WALKING DEAD has had Sundays on lockdown for seven years and counting and has the plethora of toy & figure merchandising to go with it, but what about that other apocalyptic “mankind vs the undead” series (now filming its fourth season)? I’m talking about THE STRAIN, and with good reason. Much like TWD, THE STRAIN could get plenty of mileage out of the numerous “Strigoi” that populate the series. From primary antagonists  like The Master, Eichorst and The Ancients, to the interchangeable swarm-like drones or  insect-like child “Feelers” and the half-Strigoi anti-hero Quinlan, there would be plenty to satisfy the needs of monster-loving collectors everywhere. And let’s not forget the good guys, either. Fan favourites, Abraham Setrakian  and (seen above) Vasily Fet would fit the bill quite nicely for your first wave of figures. Considering THE STRAIN is also a Del Toro property, NECA would be the obvious go-to for this line, as their work on HELLBOY II and PACIFIC RIM’s action figures was phenomenal.

I’m just spitballing here. I have no idea what demand is really like, nor which ones will hit it big with the collectors crowd. Which is why I do this kind of thing here and not work in the toy business. There are plenty of other horror properties waiting to be immortalized in plastic aside from the ones above and, chances are, you’ve got a wish-list of your own “needful things”.  So fire it up, kids – what horror icons do you want to see on the toy shelves?

Midian is Burning: Clive Barker’s NIGHTBREED and Hatred in the 21st Century

 

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Artwork by Rich Kelly, courtesy of Light In The Attic Records

Originally Published November 18, 2016 for blumhouse.com

I have long been a fan of Clive Barker’s work. It started in high school with THE DAMNATION GAME and continued all the way though his collected works: movies, books, comics, video games. One of the main reasons his work has stayed with me, and I with it, is his celebration of “The Other”: a sympathetic and humanizing view of the monstrous with a subsequent demonization of man’s baser, crueler impulses. As an openly gay male, Barker’s work champions the outsider, the marginalized and nowhere is that sympathy more evident out-front than in 1990’s NIGHTBREED.

The plan was to write a piece on Barker’s self-professed “hymn to the monstrous” and its place in queer-positive cinema. A celebration of the film’s underlying messages and how far we’ve come as a society in the nearly three decades since its release.

This is not that article.

Events in the past few days have altered the content, because we’re now waking up to the notion that maybe we’re not as far along as we thought. In less than a week, we’ve watched the veneer of civility and progression slip and fall, revealing the ugliness and hatred underneath that, perhaps, we’ve known was there all along. But there is nothing noble or admirable about this kind of monster. It is the worst of humanity – the fearful,violent and small-minded who prey  So while the time is ripe for another viewing, it’s the reasons that have changed.

“I just so much wanted the film to work. And not because of artistic reasons, but because of philosophical reasons. I believed in the story. I believed that it was the closet where the homos live and that the door needed throwing open. I still do.”

Clive Barker

The antagonists in NIGHTBREED come from all corners of entrenched patriarchal systems – science, law enforcement organized religion. And this is not a random arbitrary choice. In the 1960s, this trinity would be the good guys, the forces of normalcy defending us from the weird and monstrous. Barker flips that notion on its head, turning these forces into puritanical crusaders for maintaining the status quo and the elimination of the “commies, freaks or Third World y-chromosome mutants” that threaten it.

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For Phillip Decker, psychiatrist and serial killer, it’s a class thing. With his impeccable fashion sense, his ornate office and his penchant for hunting the lower classes of society, Decker is a dark personification of the one-percent. Decker’s motivation is spelled out in no uncertain terms as he tortures a local for information.

“See, I’ve cleaned up a lot of breeders. Families like cesspools, filth making filth and I did it over and over and over again, but it was all leading me here. I was born to destroy Boone and The Breed together.”

 

bossybottomWilliam Eigerman , while not as refined and polished as Decker, is cut from the same cloth:  a man of violence and toxic masculinity, masquerading as the face of respectability – in this case, Shere Neck’s police chief. Eigerman is a fascist through and through ( his name roughly translates to “Man of Stone) with the one-two punch of “just folks” charm and brute force. His constables, loyal to the last man, eagerly follow their boss’ evry wish, partly out of fear, but mostly out of respect. Eigerman’s relationship with his troops (and presumably with the townspeople)

ashberrytempleBut the greatest threat will be found in the least likely of this trinity, the Reverend Ashberry (Malcolm Smith). In many ways, he’s the town fool, openly denigrated by Eigerman, Decker and the assembled mob of The Sons of the Free as weak, “a drunk” and “faggot”. But that all changes when Ashberry is “touched” by Baphomet, The Breed’s god-protector, during The Battle of Midian. Scarred and reconfigured by this encounter, Ashberry is a changed man. Rejected by both his god and The Breed’s, he serves a new purpose: the eradication of The Tribes of The Moon. When the wounded Eigerman begs Ashberry to take him along, the priest snaps his former tormentor’s neck without a second thought and leaves the ruins to fulfill his new destiny. While his story, and The Breed’s, was never continued in cinematic form, Barker had very specific plans for this new enemy, as seen in this passage from NIGHTBREED: THE MAKING OF THE FILM:

“There are people out there in the world who have been waiting for Ashberry. Just as there are people out there who have been waiting for Boone. Secret orders who have been waiting for their particular Lucifer. Armies waiting to rise who want a leader, and Ashberry is going to walk into their lives like I guess Hitler did; to stir up some deep feeling.”

While the director’s cut does paint a more sympathetic view of The Breed and a more damnable one of its human antagonists, there’s never been a doubt where Barker’s sympathies have always lied. In one of the movie’s most striking scenes, Lori is given a glimpse of The Breed’s suffering at the hands of man – a Bosch-like setpiece which shows the monsters being tortured and executed. It’s gruesome and unsettling and brings Lori to tears.

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FIVE FOR FIVE: SELECTIONS FOR REMAKES & REBOOTS

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Remakes. Reboots. Re-imaginings.  The names may change, but the song remains the same. Take an existing concept or title, mix it up for a new audience and hope for a financial windfall. And, as the boss pointed out earlier, we really need to stop getting bent out of shape about it. Because there are many more coming around the bend next year. How many? How’s about “lucky number 13” many .

So, instead of raging against the dying of the light, I’m going to have some fun with it. I’ve gone through my personal Library of More Movies than Common Sense and looking through the catalogue, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are very few films in our hallowed genre that are universally precious and untouchable. I’m not talking about your personal taste. I’m talking about across-the-board agreement.  JAWS. ALIEN. THE EXORCIST. A small clutch of films that are perfect in every way and require absolutely no reinterpretation.

So if we’re going to go down the cinematic path of Reuse/Recycle/Release, maybe we need to look at films that actually CAN be improved upon. The middle of the road, the also-rans and the abject failures. The films that missed the mark by an inch – or a mile – that have some wiggle room for growth.

SHOCK WAVES

Whether by late-night viewing in the early 80s, or exposure to its now-iconic box art at your local video store, you know SHOCK WAVES. Heck, a certain podcast – I won’t name names – shares its name. The plot line is simple: two couples on a day cruise that goes very wrong, when their boat ends up on a mysterious island – once the home for Nazi research into creating amphibious super-soldiers. Three guesses who begins menacing our unlucky travellers?

WHY?: SHOCK WAVES is not a bad movie in and of itself. It has a lot going for it – horror icons John Carradine and Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams in a bikini, a creepy, grimy 70s grindhouse veneer and instantly iconic antagonists – the ghoulish waterlogged zombies of Der Toten Korps. But despite their keen fashion sense, our NaziFish out-of-water are relatively bland in their methodology. They drown you. Seriously. Death comes in various forms of drowning to our hapless band of tourists. One of the poor schmucks gets bundled up inside an aquarium! They’re nothing, if not consistent. Have Der Toten dish out some more creative means of… well, Toten!It also bares mentioning that, despite their superhuman abilities, their weakness is …sunlight? At least I think that’s the case, as they almost instantly dry up and die the second you pull off their goggles. As far as weaknesses go, it’s a bit goofy. Have Der Toten dish out some more creative means of… well, Toten!

Despite its horror-comedy pedigree, DEAD SNOW managed to make their undead Wehrmacht relentless, threatening and creative in their M.O. . Applying the same brand of undead menace to SHOCK WAVES would be totally cool.

Or would that be “Toten Kool”?

Yeah. I know. I’m sorry about that. Moving on.

GHOSTS OF MARS

Hollywood’s not above cannibalizing from its heavyweights, and John Carpenter is no exception. HALLOWEEN. THE FOG. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Even THE THING – a remake itself. All have been given the redux treatment, when none were necessary. The remakes brought nothing new to the table. Even now, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is winding up to get a new interpretation. But what about one of Carpenter’s lesser entires? How about one of the films that hasn’t been swept up in the recent re-evalutaion of the man’s filmography? I’m talking about GHOSTS OF MARS, Carpenter’s “3:10 TO YUMA/ EVIL DEAD On Mars”mash-up.

WHY?: It’s an awesome premise with mediocre execution. It’s Carpenter 101, folks. A siege story with good guys and bad guys forced to team up against a hostile force that wants them dead. It’s got a badass anti-hero (post NWA/pre-ARE WE THERE YET? Ice Cube) and a kick-ass heroine (Natasha Henstridge). It’s equal parts horror, science fiction and action. It’s a bit dated and has the veneer of most early 90s genre fare, but age should never be a legitimate mark against a film. With a bit more polish, and maybe a tighter focus on one of its three sub-genres, GHOSTS 2.0 could be something really special. Make it lean, mean. Swap in Idris Elba and Lena Headey for Cube and Henstridge and I’m there with bells on.

CANDYMAN

Now, before you get the pitchforks and torches out, allow me to finish. The Bernard Rose adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story, THE FORBIDDEN, is untouchable. It gave us one of the genre’s most elegant and vicious icons and elevated Tony Todd to the higher rungs of the horror totem pole. There IS no logical reason to remake it.

WHY?: But re-adapting the source material from which it came? That’s a whole other deal. While the cinematic version of Candyman has become closely tied into Barker’s cinematic legacy, it is a loose adaptation of the original short, which is a different kind of beast. The bare bones are still present – a student researching urban legends comes across the real deal – there are differences in location ( England, as opposed to the movie’s urban Chicago locale) as well as in the antagonist himself – a much creepier and less-sexy/tragic take on the character than Tony Todd’s interpretation.  It’s also a much bleaker tale, less concerned with revenge from beyond the grave and more concerned with the nature of stories and legends. It’s atmospheric and grim stuff. Suggestion: Give this film to Ben Wheatley (HIGH-RISE, KILL LIST) and we could end up with two unique interpretations of the same story. And who can argue with that kind of equation?

And continuing with the theme, as it were …

RAWHEAD REX

Instead of ramping up the umpteenth attempt to do HELLRAISER, how about a Barker story that would benefit from another go? Case in point: RAWHEAD REX, Barker’s brutal and no-holds-barred monster story and the first of the BOOKS OF BLOOD stories to be adapted for the screen.

WHY?: Because despite the cult following for the movie, it’s not very good. The pacing’s off, the monster is – being frank – goofy as hell, and it’s lacking the vicious brutality of the original short story. It’s sacrilegious, sadistic and funny in the pitchest-black of gallows humour sense. Yes, a couple of the more taboo set-pieces made it into the final cut – the “baptism by piss” scene, for example –  but it all feels watered down (pun not intended, but awesome)and neutered. Safe for general consumption. And there was NOTHING safe in Barker’s early output, especially with the child-eating, man-castrating, priest-desecrating Rawhead. It’s punk rock as all get out and doesn’t care if you get offended or not. The most important reason, though, would be Barker’s notoriously vocal displeasure with the film itself.  Hey, if Stephen King can get THE SHINING redo he’s always wanted, then we owe Barker the same courtesy.

( For reference OF “what could be”, track down the Eclipse Books adaptation by Steve Niles and Les Edwards to get a tease of what I’m talking about. It’s worth the hunt.)

 

HIGHLANDER

A non-horror entry and probably my most contentious choice.

I’m sorry. Hard truths are the worst, and sugar-coating things isn’t going to help either of us. I hope we can still be friends after this but there’s no delicate or easy way to put this. Russell Mulchay’s 1986  cult-classic is a goddamn mess. An interesting and (in spite of itself) entertaining one that has benefited from the rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia (perhaps more so than others), but still a goddamned mess.

WHY? : Man… where do I begin? We have the very French Christopher Lambert as a  Scottish immortal, yet we have More Scottish Than Scotland Sean Connery playing a Spanish nobleman… by way of Egypt. His utterance of the line, “I am Juan Sánchez Villalobos Ramírez, chief metallurgist to King Charles The Fifth of Spain” with a burr as thick as Gingerbread is gloriously off-kilter. We also have Clancy Brown as the bad guy, who seems to have accidentally stumbled in from a much better movie than this (Seriously, Brown walks away from this car crash intact – he’s that good). Aside from Queen’s soundtrack, is there anything about the film that has stood the test of time and couldn’t be done better? The premise is strong, but there’s nothing about the execution – the casting, the set pieces, the dialogue, the fight choreography – that can’t be improved in a number of ways.

THE BOOGENS

With a recent surge in cult status, THE BOOGENS is pretty standard  B-Movie fare. A group of young men and ladies make their way to a cottage near a run-down mining town , the site of a notorious and tragic accident. Before long, they come across the inhabitants of the mine’s tunnels and the cause of the tragedy: tentacled, subterranean creatures referred to as The Boogens.

WHY?: A little background – THE BOOGENS was one of the first horror movies I saw as a kid. One of my gateway flicks, as it were. And it blew my fragile little mind. Scared the bejeezus out of me, too. Watching it again decades later, there’s nothing about it that’s outstanding, nor awful. It’s a middle of the road  80s creature feature. A decent enough movie with a leisurely pace, better-than-normal performance for this kind of deal and pretty goofy-but-cool rubber monsters at the heart of it all. So why do it at all? Because I would like to see it. I’d like to see someone’s new take on the creatures. I’d like to see the underground world of The Boogens developed and expanded. It’s nostalgia, plain and simple. And isn’t that why these remakes get made in the first place? Easy brand recognition and rose-coloured memories of the original are a hard lure to pass up. So if someone were to tell me that, yes, a remake of THE BOOGENS is coming down the pike, I would welcome that news and buy that ticket. And I know that somewhere, deep down, you have a BOOGENS of your own.

Because we all have our own wish list, don’t we? Yes, even you with your “all remakes are stupid”. And hey, sometimes, we get lucky and we get Cronenberg’s THE FLY or Alvarez’s EVIL DEAD. A new take on an old standby that still entertains and maybe brings something new to the legacy. Some of it’s wishful thinking, yet some of it’s closer to reality than you think. HIGHLANDER? Yup, it’s confirmed as “in development” for another go. And I’m more than okay with that.

So let’s open up the floor to you. What’s on your list? What film would you like to see get the redux treatment? Sound off below.

 

 

THE VOID: Blood, Slime and Cosmic Dread in 2017’s trippiest horror film yet.

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“There is a Hell. This is worse.”

THE VOID. It’s not a sequel. It’s not a remake or reboot. It’s an original horror flick by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski, two-fifths of Canada’s Astron-6 ( FATHER’S DAY, MANBORG, THE EDITOR ) . It’s screened at multiple festivals around the world to glowing reviews. And you’re going to love it. Now you might be saying, “that’s a pretty bold claim you’re making. How do YOU know that I’ll like it?”

Well, kids, allow me to educate you.  The official synopsis is as follows:

“When police officer Carter [Aaron Poole] discovers a bloodsoaked man limping down a deserted road, he rushes him to a local hospital with a bare-bones night shift staff. As cloaked, cult-like figures surround the building, the patients and staff inside start to turn ravenously insane. Trying to protect the survivors, Carter leads them into the depths of the hospital where they discover a gateway to immense evil.”

Not enough? Alright, then. Feast your eyes on this:

Have I got your attention now? I would bloody well hope so but I want things to be ironclad here, and video is not enough. So, in no particular order, here are some reasons THE VOID needs to be on your must-see list. Three, to be precise.

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More than an homage: a lot of reviews and articles have called THE VOID an “80s throwback”, a pastiche of homages and shout-outs to that most influential of decades and at first glance, it’s an easy comparison to make.  But instead of “nudge-nudge, see what we did there?” fan service or post-modern deconstruction of horror cinema tropes, THE VOID takes these influences, puts them in a contemporary setting and plays them straight. No muss, no fuss. Familiar at first glance – Kostanski and Gillespie proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, with traces of Barker, Carpenter and Fulci mingling in the film’s genetic structure –  but there’s something fresh and inventive wriggling underneath the skin that elevates it beyond this “best 80s homage ever” labeling. Put simply, it’s a good tale told well and that applies to any decade, not just the 80s.

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Practical effects: For years now, we have been bemoaning the genre’s tendency to go CGI when it comes to putting monsters on the screen and, more often than not, they’re right. With THE VOID, it’s a return to latex, bladders, blood pumps and all manner of fluids. The creature work is phenomenal & the gore visceral and unsettling because of that tangibility. It’s solid work, and it should be – Kostanski and Gillespie have years of practical experience under their belts – Kostanski in practical and digital SFX, Gillespie in graphic design and art direction. Working on films such as PACIFIC RIM, CRIMSON PEAK and the remakes of ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL, they know the intricacies involved in making it look good – and getting the most bang for their buck. And it shows in THE VOID.

148778719858add4be8f114Lovecraft done right: The term “Lovecraftian” gets thrown around a lot. More often than not, it’s used as a lazy shorthand for “gooey, with lots of tentacles”. In fact, Lovecraft’s brand of fiction was short on gore or shock value and dealt with more metaphysical concerns – notably, man’s insignificance compared to the vast, unknowable reaches of the beyond. And yes, while THE VOID does have its share of slimy and slithery appendages, it’s firmly rooted in Lovecraft’s ethos:  “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” Decisions are made that breach the barrier between our world and…well, somewhere else… that have dire consequences for this side of the veil. It also manages to convey one of Lovecraft’s harder tactics: less is more. We see just enough of the otherworldly horrors brought forth from the other side without a grand-full-frame reveal, which only ends up making things more unsettling.  We’re also left with no exposition dump on just what exactly is waiting in The Void, building the mystery with nightmare flashes, making the viewer fill in the blanks with their own worst fears. And that is NOT easy to pull off in a visual medium, folks, but they find that sweet spot . Kostanski and Gillespie have made a film that’s worthy of the “Lovecraftian” label. And true to form, shit gets pretty bleak.

THE VOID is trippy, relentlessly entertaining and mean as hell. A “video nasty” with modern sensibilities and flair. More often than not, horror fans are very quick to point out what’s wrong with the genre. So here’s one that gets it right. Get out there and see it. Remember, you don’t get what you want if you don’t speak up and trust me, you want this.

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THE VOID will be available on V.O.D. April 7th, with a limited theatrical run – check the listing to see if its playing near you). Home video release dates are pending,so keep your eye on Facebook, Twitter  , Instagram & the official website for updates.

F**k This Ship: 20 Years of EVENT HORIZON

event-horizon-700x300” I created the Event Horizon to reach the stars, but she’s gone much, much farther than that. She tore a hole in our universe, a gateway to another dimension. A dimension of pure chaos. Pure… evil. When she crossed over, she was just a ship. But when she came back… she was alive! Look at her, Miller. Isn’t she beautiful?

Re-evaluating movies once seen as failures has become something of a sub-genre of its own among film aficionados. A film maligned by critics and ignored at the box office is now more likely to find a fresh following among new fans through word of mouth or nostalgic endorsements from a small (but vocal) fan base. In recent years, one of the films that has gained the most from this “better late than never” retrospection is Paul Anderson’s sci-fi/horror tale, EVENT HORIZON.

The story is all too familiar to horror cinema devotees: after seeing the 130-minute cut of the film for the first time, Paramount became a little gun-shy of their finished product. For a film being released for the summer, it was considered too long and definitely far too violent & mean for summertime consumption. Anderson was forced to make cuts to the film to make it more palatable (and profitable) for mainstream audiences. To no one’s surprise, after all the fiddling and second-guessing, the end result was a low take at the box office and a heap of derision from critics. It wouldn’t be the first film to suffer this fate, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Now, in re-evaluating a film like HORIZON, there’s a tendency to treat them like some sort of lost and unappreciated classic. Let’s get this out of the way – the film has its flaws. Critics called it a pastiche of other films – THE SHINING, HELLRAISER , ALIEN and SOLARIS all get brought up  – and they’re not wrong. But considering the amount of homage that goes on in this genre, it’s unfair to take this film in particular to task. Especially when the final product works as surprisingly well as it did and what works, works really well.

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For starters, the two headliners – Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill – are both solid here. Neill’s Dr. Weir, the obsessed creator of the gravity drive, gradually slips into madness as his creation begins to work on him, molding him from its creator (father?) to a loyal servant – Renfield to its Dracula. There’s a last-minute Cenobite-like transformation for Weir in the climax, which feels tacked on but Neill’s descent into homicide and worse makes him a strong avatar for the evil ship..

event-horizon-lawrence-fishburne1Fishburne’s Miller, the captain of The Lewis & Clarke salvage ship, is straight-up, no-nonsense, placing his crew’s safety over all other concerns, even if it means putting himself in jeopardy. And he does it all with an effortless “military man” cool. The other cast members equip themselves well enough, but Neill & Fishburne keep things anchored, especially when in conflict over the mission plan.

Then there’s the titular space hulk itself, a character in its own right, and designed as such. Like a metal bird of prey, illuminated by the thunderstorm of the nearby planet it orbits, The Event Horizon seems designed for malevolence. From the long and alien passageways, to the doorways – all punctuated with sharp spikes and edges, as if the ship is making its intentions known through its architecture. At the center of it all, Weir’s Gravity Drive, a revolving puzzle-like sphere that generates and artificial black hole that bridges two points for instantaneous travel. The room is ringed by sharp spikes in the walls and a moat of brackish blood-like fluid surrounding it. Practical? No, certainly not for trans-warp space travel. But it’s visually effective and creates a great sense of dread the minute our intrepid retrieval crew steps onboard.

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But for anybody with even a passing knowledge of this film, the conversation around EVENT HORIZON always comes back to THAT scene.

You know the one. It’s why freeze-frame was invented.

The reveal of what happened to Event Horizon’s crew in that final video log is a Boschian pastiche of cruelty and bloodletting – friends and colleagues once, now doing horribly animalistic things to each other, all seen through the briefest of subliminal flashes. It’s a bravura horror set-piece, more unsettling for what’s implied than shown. I could post the clip – twenty years is well past spoiler worries now, right? – but you can find it easily on Google . Besides, without context and without the slow build-up to this reveal, it’s not going to have any impact. Instead, I’m sharing that scene’s climax – a moment of silence punctuated by Fishburne’s very matter-of-fact assessment – that acts as one of the best punchlines in horror cinema history.

 

It’s not Miller’s only common sense moment. As Weir attempts to convince Miller not to leave his ship behind, Miller responds:

” I have no intention of leaving her, Doctor. I will take the Lewis and Clark to a safe distance, and then I will launch TAC missiles at the Event Horizon until I’m satisfied she’s vaporized. Fuck this ship!”

Where many horror films will have the characters do something stupid for the sake of plot momentum, HORIZON refuses to play like that and for that, it’s worthy of respect.

While interest in a director’s or extended cut is very strong, this is one of those cases where it’s just not feasible. All excised material was literally and unceremoniously dumped, eventually rediscovered in (I kid you not) a salt mine in Transylvania. The film stock was damaged beyond repair, so any and all chances of seeing HORIZON in Anderson’s original vision are dead. And yes, it’s a shame that we won’t get to see this unfiltered and uncut version, the film still stands well enough on its own as-is, warts and all.

Twenty years on, EVENT HORIZON still has the power to creep you out. And those studio heads mentioned earlier? They were right. This is a dark and mean-spirited little flick, which makes it stand out among the more jokey and self-referential scare fare of the 1990s. Perhaps more importantly, though, then what could have been for the film is what HORIZON’s success might have meant for its director. Anderson made the conscious choice to pick a hard-R horror film after MORTAL KOMBAT’s success. This meant turning down offers to direct ALIEN RESURRECTION and X-MEN. Anderson’s been doing alright, though, overseeing the incredibly successful RESIDENT EVIL film franchise. Now that he’s wrapping up that tour of duty, though, maybe we’ll get to see him get back on the path he started on with EVENT HORIZON.

In an 2012 interview for Collider.com,  Anderson spoke of the time he screened HORIZON for Kurt Russel, when the two of them were filming 1998’s SOLDIER . At the end of it, Russel told him that this would be the film he would be remembered for.

As far as legacies go, we should all be so lucky.

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