Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What is Odyssey 5?

Apparently I was the only person who ever watched this show when it originally aired on Showtime several years ago. This was a great show then, and I think that it is still pretty good and very gripping. The question is: why did it die so quickly?

The answer, my friends, is really quite simple: no market would pick it up. Odyssey 5 was fairly inexpensive to produce, however Showtime was completely unable to sell this for syndication as it had successfully done with The Outer Limits, Dead Man's Gun, and Stargate SG-1. In addition, the branding of the Showtime Sci-Fi Friday was already falling apart by that time as the Sci-Fi channel picked up The Outer Limits and was already making noises about taking over SG-1. This failure is what lead to the cancellation of a promising, and very interesting show.

Like Total Recall 2070 before it, Odyssey 5 showed us that the imagination was no boundary for the inventive and clever folks at Showtime. Smartly written, with a great cast and good direction, this show had all the ingredients for another mega hit. Why, then, would nobody pick up the hot potato? The answer: language.

This show was written at a time when The Sopranos and Queer as Folk were highlighting the fact that swearing on cable was A-OK by the viewers. The problem is that this show needed the influx of cash that would come from syndication on Fox or UPN, and without it, even the small production costs of a show like Odyssey 5 could not be funded out of pocket indefinitely.

We should learn a great big lesson from this: cussing is OK if you do not need to sell the show to networks, but it will kill your show if you need the cash.

Thankfully, I will get to watch my old friends from the shuttle Odyssey ever Friday for the next few weeks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Todd's Top 10 Greatest Monsters

OK, so I am really trying to get in the swing of posting more regularly, and I am planning to post in a specific format starting next week. The format will be:
Monday: Todd's Top Ten
Wednesday: New & Exciting Stuff
Friday: Serial Story Chapters

This week, with Halloween two days away, I wanted to focus on the scariest monsters in film history:
10) Frankenstein's Monster: Though more lamentable than truly scary, Frankenstein's monster still has the ability to make us cringe. Far scarier than the monster is the Doctor himself, whose mono-maniacal drive destroys most things in his path.

9) The Thing: The John Carpenter film 'The Thing' featured a creature that was able to mimic anyone and anything out there. These creepy beings left a small base out in the snows of the Arctic completely vulnerabl, and in true horror fashion, there are no survivors.

8) The Wendigo: For those of us who remember a strange little film called Ravenous the Wendigo has some pretty scary connotations. The main reason that this creature is frightening is that it could be anyone... well, anyone who eats the flesh of their enemies, anyway.

7) The American Werewolf: Whether it's London or Paris, you cannot help but feel bad for this poor shmuck. In the original film, he has to contend not only with his own transformation, but the hunting of his rather annoying friend (who decomposes from scene to scene). In addition, you have characters like the one in the Jack Nicholson portrayed in Wolf, and the characters from the film Cursed, where they do not understand the change taking them down a more bestial and feral path.

6) Demons & Devils: Before John Constantine, the Hell Blazer, made it cool to fight the legions of hell, men like Father Merrin were trotting around the globe casting out Satan. Whether they are possessing little girls, as in The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, or manifesting in person to threaten life and limb, as in Hellraiser, the damned have a special place in the mythos of monsters, and can still scare the pants off of believers and non-believers alike.

5) Ghosts: Move over Beetlejuice, for there are far more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies. The restless dead are fodder for many stories, and it is no wonder that they haunt the living with spite and malice (after all, most of them are rotting in the ground, which is enough to make anyone cranky). From Peter Straub's Ghost Story to The Others to An American Haunting, it is amazing what lengths the dearly departed will go to in order to have a bit of closure.

4) The Mummy: Peter Cushing and Brendan Frasier share a common problem: there is a fellow swathed in bandages trying to kill them to fulfill an ancient curse. Stinks to be them. The various incarnations of the Mummy have been alternately frightening and silly, but what makes the Mummy stand out is that it has such a wonderfully complex story to prop it up. Even if you don't care about the actions of the creature, the story of its curse is always really cool (especially when you get to see the poor priest being buried alive).

3) Zombies: I will admit that I do not particularly like zombies, but even I will agree that these things scare the crud out of the living. Dr. Kim Paffenroth, author of The Gospel of the Living Dead and Dying to Live, tells us that there is more to Zombies than just walking corpses who eat flesh. When you get down to it, George Romero made some of the scariest films of all time with a fairly small budget simply because these things are really frightening. See the movies and read Dr. Paffenroth's books, and see if you don't agree!

2) Witches: Not many people liked Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but I thought it was pretty damned scary myself. Step aside Charmed Ones, the girls from The Craftand the guys from The Covenant would like to show you how it's really done. Yeah, we all laughed at Hocus Pocus and The Witches, but was anyone laughing at the movie Warlock? I doubt it, cause that was some scary stuff. Think that was tame? Try The Serpent and the Rainbow on for size, and see who is laughing now.

1) Vampires: Salem's Lot, Nosferatu, Dracula, and so many more it is impossible to keep track. The Vampire is, bar none, the most terrifying creature out there. Why? Because they seem so normal. They are so much like regular folks, right up until the whole blood sucking part, that it is alarming. Also, the fact that they can control their victims and make them obey, even when they know it will doom them, is pretty horrifying. Vampires are the most horrible 'monster' because of their complete lack of any redeeming or mitigating factors. Zombies, Aliens, Werewolves... they don't know any better, they are doing what comes naturally, but Vampires have no such crutch. They know what they are doing and glory in the action. Ugh.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Top ten Science Fiction Horror Films

OK, I know that you have been wondering what happened to me, and where I have been, but frankly work has been so busy that I have not had time to post. For this I apologize, and hope to get back on track with at least one post a week. I hope. Maybe.

In honor of my favorite holiday I thought I would post a list of what I feel are the best of the Science Fiction Horror films. These are not classic horror films, but movies that use science instead of paranormal or supernatural explanations to scare the heck out of us. Fortunately foe you these are films, not books, so the write ups will be fairly short. The list will count down to what I consider the #1 Science Fiction Horror film of all time.

10 - From Beyond - Strange adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name in which Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) plays a scientist whose research partner, Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel) has opened a gateway to another dimension through stimulation of the pineal gland which opens the thirs eye. In spite of the cheesy effects, this is a pretty scary film simply because of the intensity of the acting. The science is very sketchy, but internally consistent.

9 - Coma - This film scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Imagine that Coma patients are being used for a horrifying experiment. Michael Douglas and Genevieve Bujold give stunning performances in this adaptation of the Robin Cook novel. This was also one of Michael Crichton's first film projects as writer and director (the prior was Westworld).

8 - Videodrome - Lots of people hate this movie (Ebert once stated that it was the least entertaining movie that he had ever seen), however the stellar performance of James Woods as he slowly succumbs to the grips of the subliminal message is fantastic. Possibly David Cronenberg's best film.

7 - Flatliners - Many are going to disagree that this is a horror film at all, but the fact of the matter is that this movie has all of the elements of a great horror story (the characters give themselves near death experiences in a scientific attempt to understand death and are subsequently haunted). The fact that there are some slight supernatural ideas in here might preclude the inclusion of this film, except for the fact that the supernatural ideas are exlined with at least an attempt at science.

6 - Strange Invaders - This is possibly the scariest alien invasion story ever, mainly because it only makes sense to the aliens themselves. There are great scenes of aliens 'storing' people and a few really horrific scenes wherein the aliens remove their human guises to reveal really grotesque faces beneath the human masks. Taught and suspenseful, a must see.

5 - Lifeforce - OK, so I am really treading on thin ice with this one. Based on the novel The Space Vampires, this film is about... vampires from space. Seriously, it covers the idea of a scientific basis for vampires and vampirism. Granted, it does not do it very well, but it is still scary as all get out.

4 - Phantoms - Dean Koontx is a great writer, and this was his first true horror novel. Luckily he got to write the screenplay for this film, which features a cast of Hollywood heavyweights (Peter O'Toole, Ben Afleck, Rose McGowan, Liev Schrieber, etc). Creepy and atmospheric, this is a great spine-tingler with a scientific bent.

3 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Nice, short, to the point, and truly frightening. This classic film has been remade several times, and they have all been great films. The concept of identity is fully and brutally explored in a film where nothing is quite what it seems.

2 - Alien - Most folks know of my love for the first film of this lucrative franchise. It is possibly the greatest monster movie of all times, with a combination of all the things that make any film great. Ridley Scott shows that he is one of the greatest directors of all time, and the cast is fantastic.

1 - Metropolis - Probably one of the 10 greatest films ever made, Fritz Lang's Metropolis is the ultimate showcase of scientific horror. When a young man becomes concerned over the differences between the 'thinkers' and the 'workers', and tries to bridge the gap, no good will come of it. Many have tried to remake this ultimate class struggle film, but ultimately it is perfect.