Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bye, Bye Blockbuster

Though I expected it to happen one day given all the troubles the company has been facing, I was still pretty shocked to see the giant STORE CLOSING banner strung up below the BLOCKBUSTER sign when driving through my home town earlier this month. I was even more surprised to see the building completely empty upon my next visit a week later because I thought it would take longer to clear everything out. Disappointment followed when I considered all the good deals I probably could have gotten on DVDs as they liquidated their inventory, but then faded quickly when I realized they wouldn’t have had anything worth buying. Even if I had been the first person inside after the announcement was made and had access to the entire collection I probably would have left empty handed. That was the problem with this particular Blockbuster; their collection was a joke, especially the horror section which only seemed to cater to people who enjoyed remakes or direct to DVD movies that had a 2005 or newer release date -- many of which were still being rented out at new release prices even though they had been on the shelf for years. Making the situation even more ridiculous was that there didn’t seem to be a logical reason for doing this given all the empty space on the shelf, space that could easily have allowed for three times the amount of DVDs being offered. Even the employees didn’t have any real explanation for why this location did this, though one teen behind the counter did tell me that the reason the remakes had replaced all the original movies on the shelf was because they were ‘newer and better’. The horror of the statement was further enhanced when he added that he had never actually seen the original movies, and never planned to watch them because he didn’t like old movies. Had my jaw not dropped to the floor I would have tried to curve his attitude, but instead I simply grabbed my rentals and hurried to the car, my mind trying to reassure me that most kids his age did not feel this way. Sadly, having sat through enough college classes with his age group, I know he is not alone.

Before the horrible decline in quality, this Blockbuster was a wonderful video store that provided many amazing memories that I will forever cherish. The greatest of these date from my high school days, specifically my senior year. By that point my little brother and I were unredeemable horror fans and lived for moments when my parents would be out of town so we could turn off all the house lights every night and watch an endless stream of horror movies until our eyes could no longer stay open -- a frequent occurrence since my Mom was a travel agent and got to go on trips every couple of months. Our goal was to be scared senseless; most of the time though we just laughed and laughed because the movies were ridiculous. It was still fun, however, and every morning (if we didn’t have school) we would head to Blockbuster and pick out several new movies from the horror shelf, our focus being slasher and haunted house movies. After that the countdown to darkness would begin, the time slowly moving forward as we played round after round of Goldeneye (still our favorite game). To this day I have no idea how many horror movies we actually watched during that time, or what the majority of the titles were, just that we enjoyed ourselves so much that we now will try to recreate the atmosphere whenever the two of us are together. Of course we no longer need the video store when engaged in these events, not when the Internet pretty much provides us with every movie ever made, but that doesn’t dampen the early memories or the knowledge that it played a huge role in fueling our desire to seek out and watch such obscure horror titles.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thunder Ninja Kids: The Hunt For the Devil Boxer (1991)

For several years now there has been a feud in the zombie community that focuses on the mobility of the flesh eating creations. Some fans believe that zombies should be stiff jointed creatures that bumble about in search of humans they can eat. Others think it is okay for them to run around like track stars, their rotting muscles and tissues still able to muster the strength needed to tackle a fleeing victim. The debate pretty much stems from two movies: Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Return of the Living Dead (1985). In the former the zombies are brain dead beings that hobble about, their bodies looking as if they could keel over and break with a gentle gust of wind; in the later they are incredibly mobile beings that run around without trouble, their reanimated bodies pretty much human in all aspects with the exception of their rotting flesh and desire to devour brains (unless they are missing a limb or two). Of course variations and combinations of these two types of zombies have been presented to the movie and book reading public over the years, but for the most part the original debate on whether they should walk or run has stayed the same -- a smaller one about whether they should be flesh eating or brain eating occasionally makes waves as well. Sadly the debate has left out a third type of zombie that has now been around for twenty years; one that I believe should be argued about with as much passion as the walking and running variety. Therefore I shall now introduce the rarely seen hoping zombie.

Imagine a world where a sacred short sword is all that stands between Satan and the enslavement of mankind. The importance of protecting such an item would be hard to comprehend, and really wouldn’t be something the average person would want to think about on a daily bases. Fortunately Master William and his son Falcon are the guardians of the blade and always seem to win the annual contest between various ninja warriors that allows them to keep possession of it. Satan, however, has a plan to acquire this blade, one that seems to involve a very Caucasian ninja warrior (accept when his very Asian stunt double takes over) who will go and fight Master William for it. Though simple, the plan seems to work, and soon Master William is brutally slain by a pink ninja suit wearing pawn of Satan -- he has help from a second pink ninja suit wearing pawn but sadly one will never know the name of this brave warrior who sacrificed himself for the cause. While all this is going on a separate story unfolds, one that begins with a lampshade like UFO flying over and zapping a very decrepit graveyard. The reason for this act remains a mystery as the graves explode and various aged pasty faced Asian kids bounce out and begin hoping around the movie in search of blood. One of these kids, a young girl in a red dress, doesn’t hop around, however, and seems out of place. She does command respect though and after stumbling upon a young living girl being kidnapped decides that she and the hoping zombies need to rescue her. As it turns out she was a victim of these same kidnaps who sacrificed her to Satan a year earlier. No name is ever really given to these kids, but it is my belief that they are the Thunder Ninja Kids given their ability to kick ass. So, will the Thunder Ninja Kids be able to rescue the young girl before she is sacrificed to Satan? Furthermore, will Master William’s son Falcon be able to retake the sacred sword from Satan before he (she?) enslaves mankind? Only those with enough stamina to sit through this god awful flick will ever know.

It is important for readers to understand that Thunder Ninja Kids: The Hunt for the Devil Boxer isn’t a movie that can’t really be effectively described. Instead one has to see it to truly understand the experience endured by those who have sat through it. The reason for this is simple: the movie doesn’t follow a single storyline and seems more like the merging of two separate films, neither one of which is comprehendible by itself and therefore makes no sense when spliced together. At the same time it is a fun movie to watch, especially if one plays the ‘guess which stolen theme song this is’ whenever the background music appears. During my first viewing I was able to pick out the theme from Halloween (1978) and the theme from the original Mario Brothers game. Others in our movie watching group claimed to have heard various songs from different eighties bands and TV shows, all of which were only audible for ten to twenty seconds each and sometimes had more than one song playing at the same time. Other fun games involve counting how many times Master William has to push his mustache back in place, how often a Asian stunt double replaces the Caucasian actor, how many extra punching and kicking sound effects are put into the fight scene when no one is actually being hit, and trying to figure out why the zombie thunder ninja kids are invisible to some but not others. Most fun of all is trying to figure why the zombie kids are almost always hoping from place to place. At one point a reason for this is given, they hop when low on blood, but then this seems to be nullified when they continue to hop after feeding, so the question remains. All in all a fun movie to watch with a group, but only if the group realizes it is going to be bad -- so bad that they will be willing to sit through it again and again when introducing it to those that have never seen it before.

Here is a clip of the hopping zombie thunder ninja kids:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Anyone else ever strolled alongside a cornfield at night? If so I don’t have to explain to you how eerie such a situation can be, especially when the crop is at the peek of its development and ready to be harvested. Two things always seem to stand out in my mind when faced with such a situation. First, the human sized pockets of pure darkness that hover between the stalks, pockets that could be hiding anything or anyone; second, the synchronized movements of the stalks themselves whenever a gust of wind passes overhead, movements that give the illusion that the stalks are all part of a single entity, one that could easily swallow you whole if you ventured into one of its dark corridors. Adding to the creepiness is the sense that one can’t really get a full understanding of what could be lurking within by simply peering in because the shadows stay solid no matter how close one gets. In fact, pressing ones face up to the edge of a cornfield at night is like trying to look beyond a pane of one way glass, the only difference being that the one way glass would create a barrier that prevents whatever may be watching from reaching out and grabbing hold. This isn’t the case when looking into the cornfield. Stand toe to toe with that kind of darkness and one has to contend with the possibility that they could be standing toe to toe with someone else, someone who probably doesn’t have a very pleasant reason for hiding within the crop.

In Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child the cornfield plays a prominent role as the small Kansas town of Medicine Creek is suddenly plagued by a series of gruesome murders that don’t seem to fit the established molds of the typical serial killer. Making these savage killings even more frightening is the realization that the acts could only have been committed by a local townsperson since no strangers are present within the small community at the time of the first murder, and the sea of corn that surrounds it makes it unlikely that anyone could come and go without being noticed. Two strangers do arrive once the murders begin to unfold, however, followed by many reporters as the body count grows and reaches the attention of the national news organizations. One of these strangers is an overly arrogant scientist from a Kansas college named Stanton Chauncy who is studying the area to see if it will be the ultimate location for a project dealing with genetically engineered corn -- something that would bring the town back from the brink of financial ruin; the other is FBI special agent Pendergast who enjoys putting himself into the middle of such bizarre situations (previous novels that have situations that snag his interest include The Relic, Reliquary, and The Cabinet of Curiosities). From the start neither one is really a viable suspect for the murders; though Pendergast does do a good job of putting himself on the wrong side of the police. The seemingly supernatural strength that is involved in the killings and the varied ‘displays’ that are created with the bodies also makes it difficult to point to a suspect within the local population. It also starts to make many wonder if the towns regrettable history with the local natives in the 1860’s is to blame, one that led to a curse being put upon the land. Even Agent Pendergast’s brilliance and unorthodox investigation methods doesn’t seem to be able to shed light upon anything. Eventually one person does put all the pieces together, but rather than going to Pendergast or the local police she tries to verify her theory herself which puts her right into the killer’s hands. Will Agent Pendergast and the local police be able to follow her tracks and rescue her in time, or will she just become the latest mutilated body to be displayed in a circle of trampled corn?

Contrary to what many of the customer reviewers said on I felt Still Life with Crows was a brilliant book -- a real ‘easy to read’ entertaining page turner. I also really liked that it emphasized a situation that isn’t often portrayed correctly in popular culture, but which is very relevant in our society and can have a devastating effect on the people who suffer it (I can’t say what this situation was for it would spoil the ending -- rest be assure readers will understand what I’m talking about once the final page is turned). Now, I can identify with some of the criticism projected onto this novel, most notably Agent Pendergast’s mental visualizations of past events, and the sudden transitions into a situation that connects with the previous book in the Pendergast saga, but which is a completely unrelated to this story and a bit of a distraction. Thankfully these moments didn’t take up much space and are easily gotten through and forgotten. I don’t agree, however, that the last third of the book was completely unrealistic, or that the revelation of the killer’s identity and their motive was a let down. In fact, I thought just the opposite, which is why I read the last third of the book without interruption, my eyes relentlessly going from sentence to sentence, my mind craving to know the fates of everyone involved. Furthermore I actually felt chills race through my body as I finally came to understand the WHY behind the murders. This revelation was so powerful that I nearly called my Mom so I could encourage her to start reading the book herself (we share similar tastes) but then caught myself when I realized what time it was. What else can I say? With such an experience while reading how can I not recommend this book to everyone?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ancient Dragons Are Really UFOs?

Let me start this post by stating that I fully accept the possibility that aliens visited our planet in the past and that descriptions of things like fiery chariots in the sky, angels coming and going from heaven, and floating cities at war with each other could all be attempts by ancient people to describe such beings and the crafts they traveled in. With that said I have a hard time accepting a similar theory I have heard several times now that claims dragon mythology was also born out of ancient people trying to describe alien spaceships, and that the image of a dragon breathing fire while flying is really an interpretation of a spaceship shooting out fire as it crosses the sky. My reason for questioning this is simple, and, according to the people I have voiced the opinion too, a bit comical. If dragons were first created as an attempt to depict flying spaceships why would those creating them show the dragon breathing and spitting fire, wouldn’t it be more accurate if they farted fire? After all, ancient people weren’t stupid, and even if they didn’t understand what an object was I have to believe they could still tell the difference between the front and back of that object, especially if it was moving in a particular direction.

Now, some of the people I have talked to tell me that the fire shown in a dragon image isn’t necessarily meant to represent a driving force of the spacecraft, but a type of weapon it uses, hence the reason the dragon uses it as a weapon as well. This makes more sense to me. The only time I ever hear such an idea, however, is when a ‘dragon represents ancient UFO’ theorist tries to counter my original statement that calls into question the location of the fire in a dragon image, so I don’t ever really give it too much consideration. If it came first I would, but instead it just seems like the people who suggest this are frantically grasping at anything that will help maintain their theory. So, show me an ancient image of a dragon expelling fire from its butt in order to travel across the sky and I will accept that it may be an attempt to depict a flying saucer. Until then I am going to stick with my own theory that the dragon images ancient people created represent nothing more than the ability to be creative, a skill that I think many of us forget to attribute to the people of the past. What do you think?