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New Escapist Column! On “The Terminator” as a Slyly Subversive Slasher…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. I rewatched The Terminator recently, and got thinking about the film as a horror movie rather than a science-fiction film.

The Terminator is often considered a landmark science-fiction film, and understandably so. However, The Terminator also works as a horror movie. It’s a slasher movie about a relentless force chasing a young woman through a nightmarish Los Angeles lit in shades of neon blue and green, so as to evoke a sense of insomnia. However, Cameron does more than just embrace the tropes of the slasher movie. He engages with them, and puts a subtly subversive twist on the standard rules of the genre.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Star Trek: Voyager – Revulsion (Review)

Revulsion is a solid episode elevated by a superb guest performance.

The most notable aspect of Revulsion is the guest appearance of veteran character actor Leland Orser. Orser’s screen presence is striking, making an impression with supporting role in high-profile films from The Bone Collector to se7en to Alien Resurrection to Daredevil. He has also worked reliably in television, holding down regular roles in shows like E.R. and Berlin Station, while recurring in series like 24 and Ray Donovan. To modern audiences, he is likely recognisable got his work as a fixture of the Taken franchise.

Not just holo praise.

Not just holo praise.

Even within the Star Trek franchise, Orser is very much a recurring fixture. While never a steady player like J.G. Hertzler or Jeffrey Combs, Orser made quite an impression. He played the changeling posing as Tal Shiar operative Colonel Lovok in The Die is Cast on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, making the most of a rather minor role in one of the series’ most memorable two-part episodes. He would also do good work as the venal Loomis in the otherwise disappointing Carpenter Street during the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

However, his guest appearance in Revulsion on Star Trek: Voyager remains his most distinctive turn in the franchise. Playing Dejaren, a psychotic and fragmented hologram who murdered his crew, Orser singlehandedly elevates would could easily be a tired genre exercise. Revulsion is a solid episode, but one that sticks in the memory almost entirely due to the casting.

Kali Ma!

Kali Ma!

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Empok Nor (Review)

Empok Nor is effectively a slasher movie.

It is Bryan Fuller’s second story credit for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and it shares a number of tonal and thematic similarities with his story for The Darkness and the Light. Both episodes are essentially pitched as serial killer horror movies, in which monsters from the past stalk our lead characters. These are fascinating tonal departures for the Rick Berman era of the Star Trek franchise, even if they feel like the logical extension of early horror-tinged episodes like The Man Trap or Charlie X or The Enemy Within.

The great game.

The great game.

Empok Nor is not as well developed or as effective as The Darkness and the Light. It lacks the thematic and character-driven punch of that earlier episode, even suffering as a little derivative. While Kira’s efforts to reconcile her past as a terrorist with her current status quo was the driving force of The Darkness and the Light, the contrast between O’Brien as a soldier and O’Brien as an engineer feels a little underdeveloped in Empok Nor. More than that, Empok Nor suffers from casually transforming Garak into a gloating nineties serial killer.

At the same time, there is a cheeky thrill to watching the Deep Space Nine production team try their hand at a particularly trashy and visceral genre, offering jump scares and atmosphere on familiar sets with the lighting turned way down low. Empok Nor is not a standout of this most spectacular of television seasons, but it had its charms.

Sleeping beauties.

Sleeping beauties.

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Millennium – Darwin’s Eye (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

There is a reckless abandon to the the late third season of Millennium that is oddly endearing.

The first half of the year seemed almost cautious and conservative, as if trying to smooth the rough edges off the show in the hopes of turning it into a more generic piece of television. That approach failed spectacularly, and hobbled the rest of the season. Towards the end of the third season, Millennium allowed itself to become a bit bolder and more abstract, proudly flying its freak flag high. The show found an energy and verve, throwing crazy concepts into scripts with reckless abandon and little regard for how they fit together.

Shady theories...

Shady theories…

It doesn’t entirely work. If anything, it underscores just how skilfully the second season had integrated these crazy ideas with a clear creative direction and a solid thematic foundation. The second season know roughly where it wanted to go, and so embarked on an epic journey towards that point. While the third season has its own thematic underpinnings, these feel more like recurring visual motifs and ideas than a clear purpose. As a result, the weirdness can seem detached and purposeless, abstract and surreal.

However, even when the late third season episodes don’t quite work, they remain interesting. There is a breathless energy to these stories that was sadly missing in the first stretch of the year. Darwin’s Eye is a prime example. It is not an episode that could be described as a success by any measure, but it is still ambitious and dynamic in a way that mitigates its failings. Somewhat.

That's one way to get a head in love...

That’s one way to get a head in love…

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Millennium – The Pest House (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Millennium is largely a show about the nature of evil.

It feels a little redundant to point that out more than halfway through the second of three seasons, but it is worth repeating. When Chris Carter created Millennium, he designed the show to explore the many faces of evil in a variety of ways. It could be argued that Millennium was largely spawned from episodes of The X-Files like Irresistible or Grotesque, stories fascinated by very human forms of evil that almost become supernatural. Carter and his writers played with that idea over the course of the first season, particularly in episodes like The Pilot and Lamentation.

A pointed commentary?

A pointed commentary?

However, Carter was not the guiding visionary for all of Millennium‘s run. He remained involved in the production of the show, but the day-to-day running of the series was handed over to Glen Morgan and James Wong, who immediately reinvented it from the ground up. One of the more interesting aspects of this transition is watching the differences in how the two creative teams approach various aspects of Millennium. In many ways, The Pest House would be read as an exploration and critique of Carter’s approach towards the concept of evil by Morgan and Wong.

Carter’s work seems to suggest that evil is an external and infectious force – a contagion or pathogen that can be passed from one person (or generation) to another. In contrast, Morgan and Wong seem to argue that evil must be rooted in a person, that it must come from inside rather than outside. The Pest House contrasts these two different visions of evil, finding Morgan and Wong playing with the recurring Ten Thirteen trope of evil as a transferable quantity that can be moved and reallocated. And The Pest House seems horrified by such a concept.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

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Star Trek – Wolf in the Fold (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Wolf in the Fold is Robert Bloch’s third and final contribution to Star Trek.

In keeping with What Are Little Girls Made Of? and Catspaw, the result is intriguing, bizarre and more than a little bit dysfunctional. More than any of the other writers drafted in to write for the science fiction show, Bloch’s fingerprints remain all over his script. Writers like Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana generally do a good job reconciling the work of science-fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad or Harlan Ellison to make their stories fit within the frame work of Star Trek. However, even after re-writes, Bloch’s voice remains his own.

Knife to see you...

Knife to see you…

Of course, it’s quite clear that Wolf in the Fold has been through the standard re-write process. The script is a mess, struggling to tie together two basic plots (Scotty is accused of murder; the Enterprise is possessed by Jack the Ripper) in ways that don’t always work. There’s a really long and awkward expositional scene in the middle of the episode that consists primarily of Majel Barrett reading off weird-sounding words in order to assure viewers that Jack the Ripper really could be an immortal hate-fueled killing machine, given the rules of the Star Trek universe.

The are very serious problems with Wolf in the Fold. On a storytelling level, the pacing is a mess and the tone is all over the place. Bloch’s scripts continue to be even more problematic than usual when it comes to issue of gender – “Star Trek does slasher horror” is as borderline misogynistic as you might fear. However, there is something endearingly bizarre about the whole thing, as Bloch once again forces Kirk and his crew to confront an irrational universe that doesn’t necessarily conform to their understanding of it.

Flame on...

Flame on…

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Non-Review Review: Friday the 13th, Part II

There is something almost endearing about how direct the Friday the 13th film series is, how comfortable it is in its skin.

There are arguments to be made that the original Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street are genuine cinematic classics, that are frequently underrated because they were followed by decades of sequels, knock-offs, reboots and remakes. Although they rapidly devolved into franchise zombies, Halloween really jump-started a cinematic genre, and Nightmare on Elm Street was slyly post-modern.

Somebody didn't read the signs...

Somebody didn’t read the signs…

In contrast, the Friday the 13th films have no such pretension. Instead, the Friday the 3th films exist as pure and uncompromising slasher schlock. Hack and slash and slice and dice. The Friday the 13th film series is powered not by central themes or ideas, but by a simply desire to churn out movies in which attractive and generic characters get brutally slaughtered. It is a ruthlessly efficient model; there were eight Friday the 13th films released between 1980 and 1989.

It’s hard not to admire the ingenuity at work here – the Friday the 13th films are relentless, refusing to let little things like logic or resolutions get in the way of the next sequel. Friday the 13th, Part II starts the franchise machine properly rolling, by rather efficiently getting around the fact that the first film’s serial killer had been fairly cleanly dispatched. It’s time to meet Jason Voorhees.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

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Jameson Cult Film Club Screening of Friday The 13th Part II in Dublin on October 22/23!

Happy Halloween!

The Jameson Cult Film Club are hosting a screening of Friday the 13th Part II in Dublin over the 22nd and 23rd of October. It’s a great early Halloween treat, with the group turning a Dublin location into a perfect duplicate of the Camp Crystal Lake Training Centre for the screening. And the tickets are free! If you haven’t already signed up, you can apply for free tickets to the event on the Jameson Cult Film Club website. If you’ve been before, you know how much fun it can be. If you haven’t, you’re in a for a treat.

Also worth pausing to note just what a great horror film connoisseur choice Friday the 13th Part II is. The default choice – and one supported by other horror film series like Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween – would be to pick the first film in the series. However, this is the exception that proves the rule. Sure, you lose out on the Kevin Bacon factor of Friday the 13th Part I, but you get most of the wonderfully iconic aspects of the Friday the 13th film series. A very good choice, by all involved.

The full details are below, after the jump.

Jameson Cult Film Club screening of Friday The 13th Part II

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Non-Review Review: Last House on the Left (2009)

Wes Craven is a very odd man. On one hand, you have the luminary who gave us the breathtakingly original slants on the horror movie which we saw in A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare and the Scream franchise, along with his talent as a straight-forward thriller director in Red Eye. On the other hand you have the king of schlock, the man behind pointless gore fests like the original Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes or even Dracula 2000. And, on a third severed hand you’d probably find lying around his trailer somewhere, you have the Wes Craven who wholeheartedly approves and supports schlokier remakes of his schlokiest films. Like this, the remake of Last House on the Left.


The only thing to fear is the quality of the movie itself...

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Was Jennifer’s Body A Feminist Slasher Movie?

If there was one horror movie that was the centre of much focus and discussion this autumn, it was probably Paranormal Activity. If there was another one, it was Jennifer’s Body. Written by the Oscar-nominated writer of Juno and starring ‘it’ girl of the moment Megan Fox, the movie sparked a whole host of interesting debates from its initial conception through to its underwhelming box office debut. The centre concept was an intriguing gender reversal on the traditional slasher movie dynamic: a college girl randomly murders promiscuous boys. That, and the fact that she is a demon. So, is the movie a feminist slasher flick, and does that go someway towards explaining its somewhat poor box office figures?


Do you want to see more of Jennifer's Body?

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