Splice isn’t what you think it is

When I saw the trailer for Splice, I predicted yet another Hollywood dud exploiting technological fears. Looked like yet another routine science-gone-wrong tale in which a monster of some sort preyed on stupid characters within a laboratory’s endless corridors. Needless to say, I wrote it off. Too many movies to watch, too little time. The director’s name, however, has been attached to the Neuromancer adaptation (which will probably never be made) so I finally decided to give Splice a try. You know, to get a feel for how awful the Neuromancer movie will be if Hollywood actually gets around to filming it.

the trailer doesn’t give away as much as most do, but it’s best to avoid it

The film opens with the birth of a human-designed creature. It’s the second of its kind—a gross, slimy monstrosity about the size of a football born in a lab whose acronym is NERD. We’re introduced to the lead scientists on the project, a couple of lovers played by Sarah Polly and Adrien Brody. They drive a Gremlin. They eat pizza at work (research scientists always eat pizza in movies). They think their slimy creature is cute. Brody’s character, by the way, wants kids, but Polly isn’t in a hurry.

The scientists are on the cusp of curing the Bad Things that tend to happen to the human body. Naturally, the beurocrats that all movies like this have conspire to take the project away. The scientists’ goal isn’t profitable for their investors. The public, they say, isn’t ready for what would probably be the world’s greatest achievement. Whereas this comes off as nonsense in most movies, the company people actually make a good point. So does Polly’s character, who counters with the line, “If we don’t, someone else will.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather Americans pave the way in this kind of research as opposed to, say, North Korea. Considering how fast technology advances these days, we can avoid the inevitable, but for how long and at what cost? So here’s the first breath of fresh air: this isn’t an anti-science movie. It’s actually pretty thoughtful, though not particularly deep. Still, it’s more than a bunch of fatty technobabble and pretend morality.

Naturally, Polly goes through with the project against the wishes of the company. It results in what some might call a monster which sort of resembles a human fetus outside of the womb. The scientists keep it secret, but this of course causes one complication after another. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be waiting for the standard horror stuff to start any second. Thankfully, the usual shit doesn’t come until about the last seven minutes of the movie. By then it’s not that bad. The movie’s often bizarre and wonderfully gross in the way of Cronenberg’s The Fly. The “monster” (and I’m trying not to give too much away here) has more in common with Frankenstein’s monster than you might suspect.

When was the last time you sympathized with a movie creature? I can’t remember my last time. But this movie does it and it does it well.

So. Do you like body horror? This picture’s got it. You like character-driven science fiction? Well, I’m glad to say this is one of the few decent examples of it in the movies. You like dance scenes? There’s a pretty good one, at least if you’re as wrapped up in the movie as I was. Sure, sometimes you know where it’s going, but that’s part of the fun: the suspense comes from knowing none of this can turn out well for our heroes.

If this is the guy who makes the Neuromancer movie, maybe we’re in for a treat after all.

Event Horizon doesn’t affect the outside observer

When Sam Neill attempts to explain black holes to the rest of the small cast, they roll their eyes and sigh. One even interrupts him and says, “Singularities? Speak English!” I can’t imagine a depressing future in which people who live in space are lost at the mention of singularities, but Paul W.S. Anderson apparently can. For anyone wondering, he’s the guy who made Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and Alien Versus Predator so he’s obviously got as much taste as a toenail. I imagine he made Event Horizon when he failed to secure the rights for the DOOM adaptation or realized he didn’t have to spend any money if he just changed the name and some of the details.

So the plot’s pretty simple. The United States secretly built a ship capable of creating wormholes. You know, because that’s obviously the type of thing a single government could produce and keep secret, especially when its track record for coverups is a joke. Furthermore, if you want to keep a ship’s jump-drive a secret, it’s probably not a good idea to publicly name it Event Horizon (I’m reminded how the government in Deep Impact covered up the impending comet strike with the code name E.L.E.: Extinction Level Event). Instead of testing the ship’s ability to jump from point A to B with probes and robots, they put a human crew on it for its maiden voyage. Well, surprise: the ship disappeared and was never heard of again. That is until seven years later when it shows up in Neptune’s orbit.

A rescue ship is sent to investigate the Event Horizon. Sam Neill is the scientist who created the ship, Laurence Fishburne is the captain, and Kathleen Quinlan looks surprisingly good in a tank top. This is a really good cast wasted by a director who has all the emotional complexity of a twelve year old boy. Anyway, spooky shit begins to happen because fuck science and humanity’s drive to explore, right? Maybe that’s why I hate movies like this: it’s like Hollywood wants us to live on our little planet forever so they continually punish any character for taking part in the final frontier.

it seems impossible for a movie to make this stuff so boring

It’s fair to compare Event Horizon to Alien, even though that’s like comparing restroom graffiti to Picasso, because it so desperately wants to be Alien. While you don’t have cats falling out of the ceiling, the jump-scares in Event Horizon are the equivalent of awkward one-liners shoehorned into a bad action movie. I actually like jump-scares when they work (Drag Me to Hell was hilariously brilliant at it), but here they don’t. Not even once. But it’s a good thing they’re there because I found my eyes drifting to places other than the screen and the screeching violins reminded me to watch the movie.

Other than all that, Event Horizon isn’t without its merits. I like the way it looks even though there’s no logical reason for the maintenance tunnels to be an eerie color or there to be lights on the wormhole generator, and so on. The CGI in this movie is downright horrible, but the other effects are pretty solid. The film’s biggest problem is that its weird shit happens prematurely. There isn’t any building of tension and therefor the scare tactics fall embarrassingly flat. It would also help if we gave a shit about any of these characters, but we don’t because they’re just not real enough.

A little late in the picture it’s made clear that Fishburne’s character had a traumatic life experience. We sigh because we know they’ll try to resolve this inner conflict by the third act, which they do in the span of about ten seconds. It’s so brief, in fact, you wonder what was the point of introducing it at all. Wikipedia says the movie underwent an uncredited rewrite and I’d bet money it was a much better movie before that happened.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (PC) is $4.99 on Steam

I miss The Sci-Fi Channel, which was actually really kooky and cool in the early nineties. The station introduced me to Harlan Ellison when I was no more than ten or eleven years old. (Ellison was hired as the channel’s version of Andy Rooney. You can watch the segments here.)

Another significant part of the nineties: video game magazines. It seems all of them covered I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, a game based on Ellison’s short story of the same name. I remember looking at the pictures with envy because I had no way to play the game. I owned it once in the early aughts, but I don’t think I could get it to work with my computer.

I was going to buy the game on GOG.com (which really needs support far more than Steam), but $9.99 seemed a little high. Thankfully, it appeared on Steam at $4.99. How’s this for an awesome Saturday morning: crackers, cheese, summer sausage, Dr. Pepper, and I Must Scream? Answer: pure heaven. Well, “heaven” is the wrong word for it, considering the subject matter.

If you haven’t read the story, it’s pretty much required reading before you play the game. Ellison himself assumes the role of AM, the future supercomputer which exterminates all of humanity, save a handful of humans it immortalizes for the purpose of torturing forever. The game deviates widely from the original story, but not so much you don’t get what you wanted: a wickedly refreshing horror game. 

I wasn’t far in when I innocently flipped a “motivator switch” just to find its sinister purpose: the torturing of six caged animals. The player character reacts appropriately with shock, but you’ve pretty much got to do it in order to progress. It’s grim choices like these that makes the game as uncomfortable as it is fun. Like a lot of games of this type, I Must Scream requires some hit-and-miss puzzle-solving, but so far when I stumble across a solution that initially seemed impossible I slap my forehead and say, “Of course!” It may seem silly removing the sheets from two bunks, but here’s a hint: they make a fine rope.

So it’s a lot like Alone in the Dark, but it looks much better. The artwork and the music are fantastic. The voice work isn’t the best I’ve ever heard (Ellison hams it up), but for some odd reason it simply works. Here’s one of those games I wish I had played much sooner, but better late than ever.

My story Phantasmagoria will be published in Under The Bed

Under the Bed (formerly eHorror) is publishing my short story Phantasmagoria in its August 2013 issue, which should be available here for four bucks. I’ll post a reminder when it’s out.

Phantasmagoria is a dark fantasy story about a couple of teens who get on a haunted house ride at their local amusement park. The ride hangs a right where it normally takes a left and, well, the boy gets lucky… then extremely unlucky.

10 things about Claw Hammer

1. It’s a horror-comedy. I wanted to write a comedy similar to Bill & Ted, Beavis & Butt-head, etc., but horror films are easier to market. That and I really miss 80s slasher films.

2. It’s not a slasher film per se. The killer carries a hammer rather than knife. I briefly considered buying the prop hammer used in Drive so I could promote the film with the following blurb: “STARRING RYAN GOSSLING‘s hammer from Drive!” But someone already bought the hammer and we wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway. If anyone cares, Albert Brooks’s knives are still available for purchase.

3. The screenplay is currently around 59 pages long. That’s short for a feature-length screenplay, but what we shoot tends to be longer than the standard page-per-minute rule. Also, the original Evil Dead screenplay was 57 pages long. What I’ve cut together so far looks pretty good for a movie on a micro-budget. Actually, “micro-budget” is misleading. It’s more like a nanobudget.

4. It stars me and a friend from high school. His work schedule changes every week. We pretty much have to shoot around him. It also looks like we’ll alternate shooting weeks and prep weeks.

5. Most of the characters haven’t even been cast yet. Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I have no idea who will be playing my character’s girlfriend in the film.

6. We’re shooting it way out of order. The first week we shot all the scenes in the main character’s house. The second shooting week we shot almost all of the scenes involving just the two main characters. The next major batch of shooting will probably focus on two other prominent characters so we only have to keep them around for a week.

7. If you can afford it, you should probably shoot your movie in order as often as you can. People really get confused about where the current scene fits in the story and explaining it is a pain in the ass.

8. Having different lenses really matter. Luckily, I got to borrow some from a friend rather than renting.

9. Shooting an independent movie can be really fun. The rest of the time it’s the most stressful thing in the world. Some of my plumbing stories can make anyone wince. This week, there were times the stress from the movie was ten times worse than the stress I’ve ever gotten from plumbing. I may have had a heart attack at one point.

10. We shot a scene that was supposed to be an homage to Kubrick. I now know why Kubrick could spend weeks or months on a single scene. Don’t shoot like that guy unless you have unlimited time and funds.