Tuesday, September 12, 2017

SHORT FEATURE: FRANK ZAPPA - CHEEPNIS

Ah, the joys of free association. While reviewing the new theatrical version of IT for Aleteia, I couldn't help but recall all those other ITs which have appeared in movies over the decades. Naturally, I had to write about them over at SCENES. That led to a discussion of It Conquered the World, which just so happened to be a favorite of fellow B-movie aficionado Frank Zappa. Knowing that, what else could I do but share this video a fan put together for the rock icon's ode to all things low budget. Ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing and listening pleasure, we present Cheepnis...


In his book You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens, author Scott Nehring suggests that "we make a statement with the films we choose to see, and those films eventually express themselves in our daily lives." If that's true, what does it say about folks like me and Frank Zappa who have a deep and abiding love for cheap monster movies and the like.

Well, obviously, I can't speak for Frank and neither can he now, so his reasons will have to remain a mystery. As for myself, there is no one answer. Part of it is the simple fun, escapism, and novelty to be found in these types of films. I mean, did you watch the video? There's a clip in there featuring a giant monkey swinging a dinosaur around by the tail. That's fun, escapist, and novel all rolled into one.

There's nothing inherently evil in any of those things, although they can end up that way if not taken in moderation. Continuous novelty seeking, for instance, might indicate someone is a dopamine or adrenaline junkie, and we wouldn't want that. Rest assured, I know when it's time to stop having fun, turn the channel, and wallow in the misery of the nightly news for a while. And vice versa.

But it's more than just the entertainment aspects. Like many other religious persons, I try to filter everything through a spiritual lens. Or as the Jesuits might put it, I do my best to find God in everything. And yes, that even goes for movies with giant monkeys swinging dinosaurs around by the tail. You'd be surprised how much God can be discovered in films like that. Often buried really, really deep, sure, but still there. And surprisingly, that makes them all the more fun, escapist, and novel. As evidence, I offer ten years of this blog.

And that's enough navel gazing for one night. Let's get back to the movies shall we? See you next time.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

THE B-LIST: THE 5 WORST JOBS IN SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIES

As more than one comedian has put it, Labor Day is that time of year we get to celebrate having a job by not working all day. However, the official website of  U.S. Department of Labor would prefer we take a more somber approach to the holiday. It reminds us that Labor Day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

In that spirit, we here at The B-Movie Catechism would like to take the time to celebrate those laborers who take care of the most thankless tasks imaginable, those who have the worst jobs in Sci-Fi/Horror movies.

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1. LAB ASSISTANT

It doesn’t matter whether you’re working for Victor Frankenstein, Herbert West, or any other of the countless mad scientists out there, the job of lab assistant in sci-fi/horror movies just plain sucks. It’s not just the usual tedious tasks like prepping experiments, recording data, and cleaning up the  equipment afterwards. It’s more all of the grave robbing, kidnapping, and dealing with a boss who daily intrudes on God’s domain that makes the job such a chore. At best, you’ll end up dead. At worst, you’ll find yourself strapped to a table and turned into some hideous human/cobra hybrid with an intense aversion to mongooses (not mongeese, we looked it up). If you can find a way to skip such an internship, we highly recommend it.

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2. PERSONAL CARE ASSISTANT TO BARON HARKONNEN

Vladimir Harkonnen was bad enough in Frank Herbert’s written works, what with being a pedophile/rapist who regularly drank blood straight from his servants’ hearts. So wretched was he that the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserits cursed the creep with a degenerative disease making him so fat (how fat was he?) that he has to use anti-gravity suspensors just to move his butt around. If you’ve ever watched a single episode of My 600-lb Life, then you know what that means. Somebody has to give this guy a bath every day. If it was just the weight, that might be okay. That’s just one of the challenges of caring for the morbidly obese. But in David Lynch’s movie version of Dune, Harkonnen’s corpulent condition is also accompanied by huge, festering boils all over his body. Nobody wants the job of rubbing a damp sponge all over that, especially not when there’s a better than average chance of getting buggered in the process.

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3. TOKYO DEPARTMENT OF SANITATION WORKER

Fandom being what it is, there have been numerous online debates as to whether or not Godzilla poops. The general consensus seems to be that since the Big G ingests nothing but radiation, there would be no physical waste to worry about. Rodan, on the other hand, you just know that guy has to leave droppings everywhere. And then there’s Hedorah, the Smog Monster. He’s basically half-excrement to begin with. So, when the fighting is all done, somebody has to clean all that doody up, right? Well, a little investigation reveals that in New York, it is actually the Sanitation Department’s job to clean up anything the City’s mounted police force leaves behind. As such, it seems reasonable to expect their Japanese counterparts would to have to do the same for any beasts, large or small, roaming their streets. They probably have to use bigger shovels though.

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4. NYC SEWAGE TREATMENT WORKER

As the New York Times so succinctly points out, the job of Sewage Treatment Worker is tough, unpleasant, and just plain dirty. It goes without saying, however, that modern metropolises couldn’t function without the public service provided by these dedicated men and women. And it’s not just dealing with filthy working conditions and the occasional vermin that make sewer workers the unsung heroes of the Big Apple. If the movies are to be believed, they also have to put up with giant alligators, flesh-eating blobs, human-mimicking mutant cockroaches, Jason Voorhies, and C.H.U.Ds. Whatever you do, don’t forget about the C.H.U.Ds.

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5. PRIEST

In the real world, a recent study published the University of Chicago showed that if you want to have a job where you are the happiest and most satisfied, then you need to join the clergy. One of the authors of the study noted, “The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching, and protecting others and creative pursuits.” That pretty much describes being a priest, which got a whopping 89% satisfaction rate on the survey. It’s a little different in the movies, though. In the celluloid universe, anytime some half-ass sorcerer, self-centered Cenobite, dime-store devil worshiper, or demon de jour shows up and wants to make a name for themselves, they head straight for the nearest Catholic Church and try to take out the local pastor. You know, a priest’s schedule is packed enough as it is. Add in having to stop what they’re doing every fifteen minutes to ward off the hordes of Hell, and it just gets unbearable.

And there you have it, the worst jobs to have in Sci-Fi/Horror movies. There’s no doubt more, so be sure to drop a note in the comments letting us know what you think should be added to the list. Happy Labor Day, everyone!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 3

I was about to complain that I’m still knee deep in the work-year from Hell, but since I’m the one who spent all that time praying for a way to keep paying my bills, I don’t think I can honestly say the bad place is to blame for my crushing work load. Ah well, at least I’ve managed to find time to squeeze in a few reviews for Aleteia, including ones for Spider-Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes. I also revamped one of my old articles about Horrifying Masks from the Movies for SCENES. Around here, though, pickings have been slim. Fortunately, there are some other sites out there talking about movies and religion to compensate for my lack of content.

To start with, there’s Bradford Walker’s article at SuperversiveSF in which he reflects fondly on The Last Starfighter. Sure, the movie may be a bit of old school 80s cheese chock full of video gamer wish fulfillment, but according to Mr. Walker, it’s also a praiseworthy tale about the necessity of accepting responsibility. Grig would be pleased.

Not quite as positive is Matthew Walther’s take on the HBO series, Game of Thrones. Writing for The Week, Walther puts forth the argument that the show is nothing more than “ultra-violent wizard porn” that’s ultimately bad for your mortal soul. I’ll have to take his word for it as (GASP!) I’ve actually never seen a single episode.

I also somehow missed the 2015 insect horror flick, Bite, a low budget gore fest with overtones of Cronenberg’s The Fly. However, my curiosity is raised by Thomas M. Sipos’ post at The Hollywood Investigator in which he assures me (and everyone else) that Bite is a surprisingly conservative Christian allegory on the dangers of fornication. Guess I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

Speaking of bugs, Philip Kosloski has a short piece up at Aleteia in which he ponders the role of spiders in Christian art and whether or not the hideous venom-filled things deserve their reputation as sinister creatures?

While you’re at Aleteia, you might also want to check out Matthew Becklo’s review of A Ghost Story, the new film in which Casey Affleck dies and comes back as a spirit who wanders around wearing a sheet with eyeholes in it. Apparently it’s thoughtful and touching and not at all as stupid as it sounds.

More somber sounding is John Macias’ musings on Logan at Crisis Magazine. Now that the film is out on home video, it might be a good time to take in his thoughts on the film and its themes of Technocracy and the Abolition of Man.

And finally, in honor of of the release of the aforementioned War for the Planet of the Apes, here’s a picture of some nuns feeding a monkey. Everybody likes monkeys.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

THE B-LIST: QUESTIONABLE MUSICAL MOMENTS #23 – THE APPLE

This isn’t the first time we’ve sampled The Apple here at The B-Movie Catechism, but the simple fact is that Menahem Golan’s gonzo musical/biblical allegory is a crap-filled cornucopia that never runs empty. For instance, in our review of the film we didn’t even get around to mentioning the brief sequence in which the entire movie comes to a screeching halt so that every single person on the planet can take part in a daily state sponsored exercise routine. Behold, if you dare, the national BIM Hour.

At first glance, this would appear to be some sort of government run torture program. I mean, “Hey hey hey, BIM’s on the way!” repeated ad nauseam for a straight hour. That’s worse than water boarding, right? But the citizens seem to love it, so that theory doesn’t really work. I suppose BIM Hour could be a national health care initiative, as the dialog hints at. After all, a fit populace would definitely cut down on expenditures. But no, there seems to be far too many portly participants for that to be the case. If the exercise hour is some part of BIMcare, it’s definitely one that’s not working.

That leaves ritual. As behavioral scientists Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton noted in a recent post at Scientific American

“People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition – or even making it rain…. Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective… What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work… Despite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true.”

Okay. So, what is the desired outcome BIM is hoping for with their daily dose of mandatory jazzercise? Well, in an article for the journal, Cultural Anthropology, sociocultural anthropologist Barry J. Lyons suggests rituals play an important part in discipline and the maintenance of social order. He states, “Anthropologists have long regarded ritual as a way that societies make cultural assumptions tangible and impress social structural principles upon participants.” Given that, the ritual of BIM Hour is most likely a way of reinforcing the populace’s collective voluntary submission to BIM. It’s the Nuremberg Rallies via way of the dance floor.

Ritual doesn’t have to be so sinister, though. Discussing the Christian ritual of the mass, the Catechism explains that…

“Signs and symbols taken from the social life of man: washing and anointing, breaking bread and sharing the cup can express the sanctifying presence of God and man's gratitude toward his Creator.  The great religions of mankind witness, often impressively, to this cosmic and symbolic meaning of religious rites.”

In the case of religion, then, the purpose of ritual is not merely to establish some form of social order (although some secular leaders have almost certainly attempted to use religion for such reasons). The rituals of religion are meant to do no less than allow its participants to experience God. Of course, that only works if people actually show up and participate in said rituals. Might want to remember that come next Sunday.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

DAWN OF THE DEAD VS. LEGION

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As long time readers of this blog know, ever since I first saw the trailer for Legion all those years ago, I have taken to periodically pooping all over the movie whenever the opportunity arises. Safe to say, the passage of time has done nothing to diminish my dislike for the film. Unfortunately, I’ve been busy, and I haven’t really had the chance lately to give Legion a good bashing. Fortunately, Brett Graham Fawcett has.

Brett has a Masters in Theological Studies from Newman Theological College and is currently studying to become a teacher, which just goes to show once again that most (if not all) of my readers are way smarter than I am. So, when Brett forwarded me a piece he had written contrasting the failures of Legion with the successes of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, I knew I had to share it with everyone. Enjoy.

Dawn of the Dead Vs. Legion

A guest post by Brett Graham Fawcett

I ridiculed the movie Legion for generally sucking. One of the most important factors in its suckiness was its crappy metaphysic. It should, I think, have gone for a straight dystheistic world where God is omnipotent, omniscient, and scary. Instead, it was some sort of lay Process Theology or Hollywoodized Open Theism where God means well but has fits of immoderate anger and an occasional really bad idea that his smarter angels need to reel him back from. Besides being dimwitted theology, I don't think it makes for an interesting horror movie.

Furthermore, His means of eradicating the human race, even in the context of "popcorn logic", is not only really bizarre and perplexing but not especially menacing. Plugged In's review of Legion states, "The angels in Stewart's vision are only slightly more intimidating than your average film ninja." This, I think, does a disservice to the average film ninja, who has the good sense to pull his more outlandish feats in relative invisibility, thus respecting a cardinal rule of suspense thrillers and horror movies (one which Alfred Hitchcock used to great effect): It's scarier when you don't really understand it and have to leave it to your imagination.  Legion attempts to do your imagination's work for it, and, predictably, fails.

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That said, if you want an interesting contemporary contrast to Legion which in many ways hits the notes it was going for, I recommend you check out Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead. Now, obviously (this should really go without saying, but whatever, I may as well cover my bases), it's really violent and if you aren't into that stuff you probably won't enjoy this film (or be able to discuss movies with me for more than twenty-four seconds or so). Everyone else reading this has probably seen his movie adaptations of 300 and/or Watchmen, and I don't need to tell you that, whatever you thought of those movies, Snyder is a very stylish director who can really paint a fantastic cinematographic picture. This is important for an end-of-the-world picture like this one.

I'm gonna tell you why.

Both Legion and Dawn of the Dead take place largely in very familiar, pedestrian settings, the former being set in a diner in the middle of a desert and the latter for the most part unfolding in a boarded-up mall. In both cases the world is collapsing around them, and because communication has been severed they can only learn this information "in snippets", so to speak. This feeling of being isolated in an insulated little spot and yet still being aware of the Apocalypse is, I think, a really essential one for creating tension. Yet Legion, despite all the potential afforded by its setting, has few if any really majestic wide shots that express the scope of God's curse descending on the world.  Dawn of the Dead, on the other hand, has at least two really evocative shots to this effect in its first five minutes, one of which is a helicopter shot of a car driving down a suburban road while mayhem ensues around it. Despite, strictly speaking, only communicating information about a very small corner of the world, this is all our imagination needs to flesh the situation out and get a sense of the chaos enveloping the globe.

Two other movies that also, I think, succeed at conveying this sense that the sky is falling without showing it (in its entirety, at any rate, in the way that a movie like 2012 does) are Signs and I am Legend. I often hear both these films disparaged as being "overrated" or (and this one makes me want to yell at anyone who says it before setting them on fire) "not scary". Seriously, if you're going to castigate either Dawn of the Dead, Signs, or I am Legend for not being scary, then you've severely missed the point in every case.

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I think the problem is in the genres we use to categorize these movies, or maybe in the way they're advertised. No-one I know thinks of Signs as a science-fiction movie, even though it's about aliens (the complaint is always that the aliens aren't scary- which, considering the way the film ends, is a really stupid complaint, in my opinion), and because Dawn and Legend are about zombies, the presumption is that they're "horror" movies. I think this is really unfortunate. It would be like if someone expected Driving Miss Daisy to be an action movie and complained afterwards that the two leads weren't attractive enough. On the other hand, I have never heard There Will Be Blood described as a horror movie; it's always labeled as a historical drama, or maybe as a thriller. Yet I found There Will Be Blood way scarier than almost any "horror" movie in the last decade, since it is a portrayal of a man slowly but surely losing his soul. It is a movie about damnation far more frightening than any of these silly unintentional comedies involving creatures "from Hell". That said, don't see Dawn of the Dead expecting to be frightened. It's an action thriller that happens to be about something monstrous and creepy happening to the human race. On that level, it works marvelously.

There isn't much more to say about the film except to stress that it handles its subject matter with much more subtlety and cleverness than Legion does. The movie, for example, never explains why the dead are coming back to something approximating life and engaging in cannibalism, with their strength, speed, and agility apparently increased. Rather than have a character show up to just flat out explain everything and provide guidance, this leaves the characters to fend for themselves, which obviously is much more interesting. Nevertheless, there are a few clues scattered deliberately throughout the movie. The (extremely well-edited) opening credits depicting the unraveling of civilization are set to the last song Johnny Cash ever wrote, "When the Man Comes Around", a sober proclamation of the Second Coming of Christ that closes with his raspy recitation of Revelation 6:8a from the King James Bible: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." Later, while the characters prepare to escape from the mall, "The Hangman's Song" by Tyler Bates plays in the background. The song opens with these lyrics:

"Armageddon time is coming soon,
Fires will turn us all into dust,
And we will be judged one last time,
You, your son and me.
Woe, woe,
Woe is me..."

These clues in the soundtrack are not the only hints we get of what's going on; at one point, one of the characters watches a televangelist announce that this zombie apocalypse is, indeed, God's judgment on the human race. "Hell is overflowing, and Satan is sending his dead to us," he explains. "Why? Because you have sex out of wedlock, you kill unborn children, you have man on man relations- same sex marriage. How do you think your God will judge you? Well friends, now we know." The televangelist is played by Ken Foree, who appeared in the original Dawn of the Dead as Peter, a character who at one point mentions that his grandfather, a voodoo priest from Trinidad, used to warn him that "when there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth". Foree's televangelist repeats this chilling line. No archangels descend to confirm or deny this theory. The seed is planted in the imagination, and the rest of the movie waters it with gore. This, I submit, is much more effective.

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Ken Foree's role in Dawn of the Dead- the solemn bald black guy with the wise remarks- is taken up in Snyder's remake by Ving Rhames, playing a police officer named Kenneth Hall. Kenneth (note the homage in the name) is a church-goer who crosses himself when he sees corpses and at one point admonishes the film's other bald black guy (this one a shadier character who apparently steals TVs), who "saw hell yesterday" and is now "scared of going to hell for all the bad things [he's] done" to "go in the stall, say 5 Hail Marys, wipe your ass, and you and God can call it even!" Harsh, perhaps, but not as bad as the gay church organist who is openly and unashamedly atheistic.

Obviously, this isn't a film with a lot of character development (instead it has a lot of nice little performances that give these bones the flesh of relative believability and even charm) and it certainly has no philosophical pretensions, but it isn't stupid, either, and these faint suggestions that, in fact, God may finally be putting an end to His rebellious image-bearers in this grotesque fashion is enough to chill the spine a couple of degrees, if the viewer is willing to invest himself intellectually enough to pay these suggestions any mind.

I close by citing IMDb: "The DVD box text implies that the cause of the zombie plague is a virus. But in an interview on FeoAmante.com screenwriter James Gunn denies the virus theory, stating that a zombie bite is like a vampire bite. Thus the plague is supernatural, not scientific." This, I suggest, is an admission of sorts from the mind behind this story that this pestilence of zombification is a curse from some higher power, and this small revelation colours the whole film with an epic, Old Testament dimension of significance that Legion, for all its hour and half of ostentatious bloviating, was unable to achieve.

Monday, June 12, 2017

SHORT FEATURE: MAGIC MUMMY

Well, the latest iteration of The Mummy has hit the big screen, and the critics have been less than kind to say the least. As of this writing, it currently sits at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. That means there is probably more critics who would prefer to catch Mummy Crotch Rot (you’re welcome, D&D fans) than there are who would want to sit through The Mummy again.

Me, I was a little less brutal in my own review over at Aleteia, but not by much. It’s just so… average. Even the supposed novelty of a female mummy has been done more than a few times before, as noted in this list over at Wicked Horror. But even that list seems to have overlooked this little nugget starring Tom & Jerry from 1933…


Not quite the Tom & Jerry you were expecting, huh? Yep, there was actually another duo who went by those names almost a decade before the celebrated cat and mouse showed up. They were basically Van Beuren's answer to Mutt & Jeff, and they had a decent run of 26 shorts over a three year period. Even so, nobody really remembers them anymore thanks to the more famous Tom & Jerry who came along later.

Oh well, not everyone gets to be the headliner in the history books, even if they have the right name. Take Mary in the New Testament, for example. No, not that Mary. No, not that Mary either. Or that one.

You see, there are actually six women (possibly seven) named Mary in the New Testament. There’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, of course. Then you have Mary of Magdala and Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha, both of whom are pretty well known. There’s also the two other Marys who were present at the crucifixion, Mary Salome, the mother of St. James the Great and St. John, and Mary Clopas, mother of St. James the Less and Joseph. Finally, there’s Mary, the mother of John Mark, who’s only mentioned two, possibly three times (there’s a Mary of Rome referenced in Romans who may or may not be the same woman, hence the possibility of seven Marys).

The thing is, though, all six of the Marys in the New Testament, even the little known ones, are recognized as Saints by the Church. Sure, Mary, the mother of John Mark, isn’t really the patron saint of anything and you’ll have a heck of a time finding a holy card with her face on it, but she’s a Saint just the same. And in the end, isn’t that the real goal? What does it matter if anybody here remembers your name or not? As long as it’s on the guest list at the pearly gates, you’ll be fine.