POWr Countdown Timer

My upcoming blogathon adventure

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ms. 45 and the Urban Vigilantes

This is a film that I might never have heard of if not for a chance mention in one of my textbooks and one I might have forgotten about if not for my innate curiosity and an unprecedented intrigue that came with learning about a major trend in 1970's action films, specifically the "urban vigilante" idea, also known as an "urban western". Typically the way these films work is they combine the classical western hero with the street and back alley settings prevalent in film noir and gangster pictures of the 1940's and 1950's.

Usually the way they work is that you have an anti-hero protagonist who is torn between two worlds. Much as the classical western hero is caught between the "civilized" world and the "savage" wilderness, the urban western hero (or in this case, heroine) is in between both the law and the crooks. They're typically civilians, as is the case for this film along with other films such as the Death Wish series featuring Charles Bronson. Other times they are rogue cops, a role made famous by Dirty Harry, or even crooks themselves as seen with Snake Plissken in Escape From New York.

In any case, they are a character who sees themselves as above the law. They find the police are too much of a hindrance for justice, and decide to take matters into their own hands. Dirty Harry continues to pursue Scorpio long after he is taken off the case and Snake Plissken screws over the ungrateful President by destroying the tape he was supposed to retrieve for him (and that was in the first movie, don't get me started on what he does in Escape From L.A.). There are even echoes of this phenomenon in more contemporary works such as Christopher Nolan's Batman films.

The movie we watched in class was Dirty Harry, and a lot of the focus was on that along with Death Wish. Escape From New York was one I only later concluded fit into the "urban vigilante" trend based on what I'd learned. One thing it didn't take me long to notice was that the vigilante character was usually a man, so naturally when the chapter on the urban vigilante films in my textbook referred to one with a female lead I became curious. That was my introduction to Ms. 45, also known as Angel of Vengeance. I eventually decided to pursue this movie and found a copy last week. I had some time during the weekend to watch it and it turned out also to be quite fitting for Halloween.

Thana (Zoë Lund) is a seamstress who happens to be mute. She happens to be living in 1980's Manhattan, a world where it is not easy being a woman, and even harder being a woman who can't talk. While walking home from work one day, she is helplessly abducted by a street punk (Abel Ferrara, the movie's director) who sexually assaults her. The experience of it happening once already leaves the poor heroine severely traumatized, but after getting home she encounters another punk trying to rob her apartment who also tries to rape her. This time Thana snaps and murders her attacker.

From then on, things are no longer the same. Thana starts to grow paranoid of every man she sees and the trauma of her experiences begin to bleed into her job as she starts to slip up more frequently. Most notably, she takes the gun off the punk she murders and begins carrying it around with her. Numerous men try to sexually harass her and subsequently meet their ends at the barrel of a 45 caliber pistol.

It's really a shame that Zoë Lund's career was cut short so early (she only went on to do five other features before dying of a drug overdose in 1999) because if this role was anything to go by she had extraordinary talent. She never so much as utters a single line at any point in the film, meaning she has to rely more or less purely on facial expression and body language to convey the emotions that come with her character's downward spiral. The fact that the emotion is purely visual makes her character stand out all the more from the rest of the cast (all of whom do talk). It gives her a lot more depth than it would to have her speak, but at the same time adds an enigmatic quality as we never learn her full backstory or why she has this disability.

I also liked the fact that unlike many other films both then and now Thana isn't glamorized or oversexualized, at least not as much. For most of the movie she looks like a very average young woman except when she is trying to make herself attractive to men in order to get close enough to kill them. By making her look like an everyday person, it makes the story of a civilian trying to take the law into her own hands all the more meaningful.

The rest of the cast is also pretty good. The interactions between Thana and the other characters are definitely believable, something not easy to pull off when you have to pretend your lead actress can't actually talk. There are two other major characters she interacts with: her landlady Mrs. Nasone and her boss Albert (Albert Sinkys), both of whom come into conflict with her over the changes in personality that come with her choice to become a vigilante while she simultaneously tries to keep them from finding out what she does during the night. She also has an emotional relationship with the other seamstresses, who are more or less the closest thing she has to friends and the only ones who really give her any kind of comfort.

Naturally for a film like this there's plenty of action to be found. Zoë Lund gets several scenes to herself where she gets to be tough and show off her newfound skills with a pistol. Even when she isn't pulling out her gun the film still manages to create tension. Knowing the protagonist just about every scene where she interacts with a man builds up a sense of tension because you know how paranoid she is and how she is very easily provoked into murder. Then of course there's the incredibly tense climax which I won't spoil for you.

I would strongly recommend Ms. 45 as a dark action film. It is an effective spin on the whole idea of the "urban vigilante", with a strong and indeed very memorable action heroine and plenty of tension. It's also a good movie to see in October, since while not an outright horror story it can be disturbing and even features a sub-plot surrounding a Halloween party. It was worth the thirty dollars I spent on it, and now I'm glad I kept up with the readings for that one course since otherwise I'd never have found out about this film. I don't know how easy it will be to find, but if you get the chance it is worth checking out

Saturday, 18 October 2014

October 2014 Blindspot Challenge: Re-Animator

I was supposed to do Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds for this month, but unfortunately I had some problems with the DVD. I got partway into the movie and suddenly it froze and began skipping. I couldn't move on without missing some crucial parts to the film and it seemed extremely unlikely that I would be able to find another copy before the end of the month (and even if I was, I can't be sure I'd have another opportunity to see it). Fortunately, I had a few other horror films in my drawer that could go in its place for October's, and one in particular struck me due to its source material.

I therefore have a confession to make. Despite being a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan and my endorsements of the HPLHS adaptations of his stories, I had never seen the cult classic Re-Animator before now. For that matter I have not actually seen any of Stuart Gordon's other Lovecraft adaptations such as Dagon, From Beyond, or the TV treatment of The Dreams in the Witch-House he did for Masters of Horror. I haven't even gotten around to reading the original Lovecraft serial on which this particular film was based, making this the first time with any of his work I've seen the movie before reading the story.

Herbert West–Reanimator as Lovecraft wrote it was supposedly a parody of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley's classic tale (which surprisingly enough, I have read not seen any film adaptations of, unless you count Young Frankenstein) was about a man who tries to scientifically engineer a process to revive the dead. The creature that results from these experiments is a grotesque entity that causes him to immediately regret his hard work. Lovecraft's story takes that concept up several notches by having a scientist reanimate multiple corpses. 

Though Lovecraft himself was not particularly fond of the story (he mainly wrote it for the money and had a lot of frustrating restrictions imposed on him), it does have something of a following with his fans. Maybe it's just because it's a little bit different from his usual horror, but whatever the case may be this is often one that fans will bring up. Naturally it appealed to Stuart Gordon, who given the path of his directorial career is clearly fond of Lovecraft's writing.

Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is a brilliant but eccentric medical student based out of an institution in Switzerland, but he gets fired after he is caught performing unorthodox experiments on one of the staff. He moves to America and enrolls at Miskatonic University where he continues to develop his peculiar experiments after moving in with classmate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). There he continues to experiment with a fluid he has developed capable of reanimating dead tissue. Things become difficult when Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) voices opposition to West's experiments. Also thrown into the mix are Halsey's daughter Megan, who is engaged to Dan and gets mixed up in all of West's experiments, and a jerk by the name of Carl Hill (David Gale) who has made a career out of stealing credit for other people's accomplishments.

The whole thing has sort of a b-movie atmosphere, which has a strange kind of charm to it and actually does somewhat fit in with the original story (which was allegedly a parody of Frankenstein). The plot does get over the top and crazy at times, but when the film needs to it can be disturbing. You can naturally expect a lot of gore from a movie about reanimating corpses, and oddly enough the excessive amount of blood does make the appearances of the resurrected human cadavers a bit more disturbing.

Re-Animator is certainly an interesting experience for any major horror fan. It is a bit campy and over the top but it will keep you on the edge of your seat as you are taken through a bizarre sequence of events. It might seem a bit slow at first but once the bodies start rising it'll be a blast, and there is even a bit of emotion to be found in all of this. The main characters are rather likable but Herbert West himself is an especially interesting figure in the way he is driven by the passion of his discovery. I'm sorry I wasn't able to do The Birds as I originally planned, but this one worked alright as a substitute. Give it a watch, you won't regret it.

Friday, 17 October 2014

How Spectacle Conveys Narrative

There has always been a delicate relationship between narrative and spectacle on film. Many Hollywood movies struggle to balance a compelling story with special effects to create a spectacle. Some of the earliest films, such as those of Méliès, were made as almost pure spectacle. Later films would prefer to focus on telling a story. Sometimes, as is shown with the famous “biplane scene” in Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, the spectacle is used as a driving force for the narrative.

While this scene is clearly meant to be a visual spectacle, it is created in such a way as to stand out in the mind of the viewer because it is an extremely pivotal moment in the story. The scene marks the beginning of several drastic changes, including the general tone of the narrative and in the character of Roger himself. This is set up through the scene’s deviation from the film’s previously established patterns.

This famous scene happens roughly at the mid-point in the film. The build up is simple enough: Roger is led to an isolated crossroads in the middle of open mid-western farmland. He has been told at this location he will be able to meet the man he has been confused with, George Kaplan, whom the audience already knows does not exist.

Instead of finding the agent, he is attacked by an unseen pilot in a biplane. A chase ensues in which Roger desperately tries to evade his attackers. The plane attempts to shoot him, run him down, and pour crop-dust all over him. Finally, Thornhill sees a passing gas truck, stands in front, and falls under it as soon as it stops. The plane crashes into the back of the truck and explodes, creating a spectacle of destruction.

This scene is a very famous cinematic moment that no doubt served as an influence on later action films such as Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet. Even the helicopter chase scene in From Russia With Love clearly took a few cues from this iconic sequence. Why is it such a great scene? Why did Alfred Hitchcock make the choices he did when putting this sequence of events together? That's what we will be discussing in this article.

As far as narrative goes, there is only one obvious function filled by this scene—giving Roger a reason to suspect he cannot trust Eve, the woman who sent him to this location. This end could have been accomplished by a much shorter scene. For instance, instead of a plane, Roger could have encountered a man he thinks is Kaplan who ties to kill him. A simple chase scene would have sufficed The scene as it was presented could have ended with Roger simply evading the plane instead of causing it to explode.

Simpler alternatives would have served the same narrative function and advanced the story but not have had the same impact on Roger’s character. Up until this point, Roger has been doing little more than attempting to run away from the villains, hoping to eventually find the man he is being confused for. After this scene, Roger starts to gain control over his situation, pursuing the antagonists himself and setting in motion the events that ultimately allow him to become Kaplan.

As a result, Roger becomes much more daring in the second half of the film. While in the first half, he simply runs away from the villains, the biplane scene marks the point where he realizes he must take more drastic measures to survive such as standing on a road in front of a moving truck and falling under it. The fact that the plane explodes shows how much of a risk he was taking. He could have easily been injured or even killed by the blast.

This scene is just the first of many creative and unusual methods Roger uses to get out of dangerous situations; he no longer simply runs away. The biplane scene marks the point in which Roger decides he is no longer going to tolerate the antagonists pursuing him and instead of simply trying to evade them instead decides to stand up for himself. As the film progresses, Roger goes on to do even more dangerous stunts, culminating in the climactic scene of him and Eve climbing down Mt. Rushmore’s face.

If the biplane scene had ended with him simply evading his attackers instead of outwitting them, Roger’s personality would not have changed from the first half of the film. His later actions would confuse the viewer. If Hitchcock had ended the biplane scene with Roger simply hitching a ride with a passing motorist and getting away from the airplane, he would simply be running away again, instead of taking a stand as is set up by this sequence. This change in character is vital to concluding the narrative. Without this particular scene the shift from an urban mystery to an espionage thriller would have been completely unexplained.

There is a very good reason Hitchcock would have wanted his scene to be a spectacle. Most of the film is extremely chaotic. Even before Thornhill is abducted, people are running around, pushing and shoving each other. One of the few calm moments of the film happens when Roger sneaks onto a train and meets Eve. Because this scene is so calm, it puts the viewer into a false sense of security. It seems as though Roger is safe from any danger. Him being attacked in such an unusual manner compared to earlier in the film is Hitchcock’s way of reminding the viewer that he is in fact still in trouble.

In addition, this scene also marks a very drastic change in tone to the overall narrative. The biplane scene marks a specific change in the tone of the story. The first half sees Roger trying to run from the antagonists, while the middle transitions the viewer into the events set off by this scene. The scene with the biplane marks the beginning of the second half, in which the narrative changes from being a chase film to more closely resembling an espionage thriller. This scene begins the transition and in turn leads directly into the final episode where Roger actually becomes a spy.

Another aspect that is worth noting is the jarring change of environment. The exotic locations used in older Hollywood films have often been used as a source of spectacle, but in this case Hitchcock opts for exactly the opposite. Instead of utilizing an impressive landscape, he chooses mid-western monotonous, flat, open fields . The spectacle is instead in the chase between Roger and the plane itself. The reason Hitchcock does not opt to include a more attractive environment is because he wants the viewers to focus purely on the central action.

Up until this point, the action has been set in populated urban environments. Roger has been pursued on foot through city streets, but here he is alone in the middle of open farmland. There are fewer places to hide, and almost no other people beyond the occasional passing motorist. The choice to use a biplane adds a layer of tension. The confrontation is obviously an unfair fight, thus alerting the viewer that Roger could be killed and creating a great sense of relief when he escapes.

Like the rest of the film, Hitchcock avoids crosscutting between Roger and the pilot chasing him, allowing the sudden arrival of the plane to startle the viewer. However, this remains the only scene in the movie where the antagonists are kept anonymous as they are never clearly visible inside the plane. This scene also marks the only point in the movie where Roger is directly responsible for anyone dying (you could argue that Mr. Townsend might not have had a knife in his back had Roger not tried to talk to him, but even that wasn't entirely his fault). By not allowing him or the audience to see the pilots, it eliminates the emotional repercussions that would otherwise come from him killing one, possibly two people.

North by Northwest has many memorable scenes, but Hitchcock has specifically crafted this particular moment so that it burns itself into the mind of the viewer. This scene is a pivotal moment in the film that marks a drastic shift in narrative tone and the main character’s role in the overall story. By creating this particular scene as a visual spectacle, Hitchcock forces the viewer to recognize these changes as they happen.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Why Can't Science Fiction Get Space Right?

I've previously discussed how science fiction often tends to botch up the whole science part with regards to terminology. There's a lot of things to know if you want to write good science fiction. Among other things, you should know what a galaxy is and you will need to be able to recognize the difference between a black hole and a wormhole. Trust me, you do not want to get those two very different things mixed up.

Still, there's a lot of things science fiction gets wrong and I think it's time to address some of these further facts. Let's begin with one of the most obvious problems, and that is the lack of microgravity. We've all seen so many films that feature this it would be far easier to list the films that actually do take the time to depict weightlessness. Unlike many errors, however, there actually is a practical reason for this particular one to be invoked. After all, science fiction movies are generally shot on Earth. It takes time and money to be able to produce convincing weightless effects. When you have a great director and a ginormous budget (as was the case for 2001: A Space Odyssey) you can produce some amazing effects, but otherwise the strings will be visible.

However, very rarely does this issue ever actually get addressed, and when it is, it's usually in little more than a character offhandedly mentioning "artificial gravity". No explanation is given for how this future technology is supposed to work. At present, there's really only two known ways artificial gravity could be generated, and neither one is usually shown to be at play. The first and less feasible option would be to have the ship moving at constant acceleration, which can temporarily create its own gravity (something like in the launch sequence from Conquest of Space). The second and far more plausible method would be to construct a centrifuge, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Contrary to popular believe, there is in fact gravity in outer space. In fact, gravity is more or less the primary force that prevents all matter from being torn apart by the expansion of the universe itself. Ryan Stone was not so much floating as she was falling around the Earth's curvature. Gravity is also what keeps the moon in orbit around the Earth, the Earth in the orbit of the sun, and the sun in our galaxy. Putting it quite simply anything that contains matter exerts a gravitational force of some kind, the strength of which corresponds to the object's mass.

Now for an extremely frustrating one that very few movies ever seem to be able to get right. Space is a vacuum. We've all seen plenty of science fiction stories that involve great big space battles with lasers. Star Wars is especially guilty of this and it is really annoying. SOUND CANNOT TRAVEL THROUGH SPACE! There is no way that is possible. It's frustrating how few movies actually pay attention to this detail: Destination Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gravity being among the few exceptions.

While we're on the subject of Star Wars, I think it's worth bringing up how asteroid fields actually work compared to what we see in the movies. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo tries to evade a number of pursuing Imperial ships by flying into an asteroid belt, leading C-3PO to claim "the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1". Actually it's not. Real asteroid fields are ridiculously easy to navigate. Generally there is a huge distance between the asteroids, so the only way you could crash into one is if you are an idiot or if your intention was to crash into one.

So here are yet more scientific concepts that science fiction can't seem to get right. For a genre called science fiction there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of... you know... science. No where is that clearer than in science fiction films about outer space, where the most basic facts are tossed out the window. Why is it that there seems to only be three major films that actually show space as silent that are each released decades apart (Destination Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gravity)?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Announcing the Cosmic Horror Cast-A-Thon

And this is just an approximation of what Azathoth might look like.

Long ago, the Old Ones ruled the domain we now control blindly. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. There are many ancient tomes that describe the wrath of these forgotten monstrosities, most famously the Necronomicon of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. These are beings so far above our capability to understand that we may not even glance upon them without being driven to pure and utter madness.

Now strange things are occurring. Men and women across the globe have reported strange dreams of non-euclidean horrors. Strange things have been seen and there is an odd break of madness in the air. It seems that the Old Ones are once again awakening, ready to claim the world that was once theirs. Humanity is doomed, and there is no chance that we can stop them, but perhaps we can delay the inevitable.

That's where you come in. Your job is to put together a team of investigators who may be able to find a way to prevent the end of all things for now, and you only have so much time to do it. At the top of the page, there is currently a clock that will time how long until the Old Ones awaken. You have until that clock reaches zero at One O'Clock in the morning of October 31. Good luck my dear friend. You're going to need it.


  1. Choose an Old One you wish to prevent from destroying out world. For those of you not familiar with Lovecraft, I'll provide a list below with some information on each and what little information is known about them.
  2. Select a group of horror movie characters you believe are cut out for the task of fighting the Old Ones. They don't have to actually be from a cosmic horror story, but they should have experience dealing with "horror" in some sense of the word. Because of the unpredictable nature of what we are dealing with, there is no limit on how many characters you can have in your party.
  3. With each character you choose, provide a few words explaining why you chose that character and what you think they can contribute to the investigation.
  4. There are no limits on how many players can go against a specific Old One, but if even one is not pursued by a single player, than you can say goodbye to everything you hold dear.

Old Ones

These are the Old Ones that we shall be facing against. Not much is known about any of them, but if any victory is to be accomplished, than all of them must be faced, though whether you'll have any form of success is another matter.


Not much is known about Azathoth, the mindless Daemon-Sultan who is said to writhe at the center of all existence. Supposedly he created all in the universe and will ultimately destroy it. For now he is kept under control by the mysterious piping and drumming of some mysterious creatures. Few have even so much as glimpsed his realm, and those who have are never the same. Only one first-hand account exists of a visit to his domain, written by a paranoid schizophrenic held at 1001, Queen St. West, Toronto. Though she was reluctant to go into detail, what she described was utter horror.


Arguably the weakest of the Old Ones, though no less horrifying. Cthulhu is said to reside in the sunken city of R'lyeh, but one day when the stars are right he shall rise form the depths. Of all the monstrosities you may have to face, this is by far the simplest, but do not be fooled. Cthulhu is a force to be reckoned with, and even if you survive, so does the cult...


This one might be the most difficult of all the Old Ones to face against on account of one particular fact that necessitated the omission of his image. It is said that any foolish being who dares to look at the form of Ghatanothoa will endure a fate worse than death. Their body will harden into a mummy-like form while their internal organs are perfectly preserved within. Until such a time as the brain is destroyed, the victim will remain in this state, fully conscious and aware of everything around them.


Out of all the Old Ones, Nyarlathotep is the one who probably has the best understanding of humanity, but that doesn't mean you should try to reason with him. This is a sick, twisted maniacal figure, who loves to bend mankind to his own will. Worse still, he comes in many different forms. He has a massive variety of human avatars and thousands of others. Whatever you do never summon one particular avatar, a monstrous creature with a three-lobed eye known simply as "The Haunter in the Dark".


Ia Shub-Niggurath, the legendary "Black Ram of the Woods" or "Goat with a Thousand Young". Not much is known about her beyond rumors, although there are stories of strange creatures that are said to worship her. Ordinarily she is not someone you want to have anything to do with, nor are any of her thousand young.


Yog-Sothoth knows the gate, Yog-Sothoth is the gate, Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. He may be the most powerful being in the known universe (with only Azathoth for competition), Yog-Sothoth is a being who exists outside of space and time, he sees all and knows all that happens in the universe. This would not even be the first time he has tried to clear humanity from the Earth. Attempting to destroy him is futile, the best you can do is survive.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Infected by the Apocalypse

At first glance, John Carpenter's movies The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In The Mouth of Madness seem unrelated outside of sharing the same director.  There is no story connection between them, or characters that cross from one film to the next. However, John Carpenter himself would eventually label these three movies as his "Apocalypse Trilogy". The connecting force is not one of story, but rather theme in that all three films deal with the end of the world.

All three films are horror stories that have been labelled as "Lovecraftian" due to their common themes of humanity facing its end at the hands of an otherworldly force beyond our capability to understand. In keeping to Lovecraft's ideas, the movies follow the rationale that mankind is a tiny, insignificant part of a vast cosmos that is at best indifferent to us. These are horrors beyond our control, beyond our understanding, and which could easily wipe us from existence. We can never truly defeat them, the best we can do is contain or delay it.

The theme that really seems to run through these movies, however, is one of infection. Though only The Thing features a literal virus (at least insofar as it infects on a cellular level), the horror is always treated like one, something that needs to be contained and prevented from spreading. The catch is that unlike a regular virus, this is not one that can be treated. Instead, the fear comes from a transformation that happens as a result exposure to the "infection". It becomes something to be avoided, which becomes increasingly difficult as the "virus" spreads to more people.

With The Thing, the concern comes from an alien organism that is capable of perfectly replicating the cells of any living thing that touches it. Its noted that, at least as far as anyone can tell, one cell of the Thing is all it takes to infect a human. That cell divides and begins assimilating other cells, which in turn divide and assimilate other cells, and so on until it has taken every part of your body. Once you are infected, there is no way to cure it. The trouble is that when you're in Antarctica and the only habitable environment is a tiny research station, it's going to be harder to avoid the people who are infected, especially when you don't know for sure who has been assimilated, who has not, and who is technically still human but in the process of being assimilated.

Prince of Darkness has a more sudden transformation that occurs from the infection. This time around, it is the green fluid (which it revealed to be alive, and the essence of Satan himself). Consuming the fluid results in almost instant death, with the corpse then being reanimated as its servant. You would think it would be easy to avoid drinking an ominous green fluid, but not when it is very good at taking you by surprise and the reanimated corpses make sure to prevent you from escaping.

With In the Mouth of Madness, it is a bit more ambiguous, and the infection is more metaphorical than literal (there is a radio broadcast at the end that refers to the "infected" but never states if they were infected with what we might think infected them). Instead, the "virus" (if you can call it that) is the popularity of Sutter Cane's writing. With every new reader Kane's power grows. Every person who reads Kane's book is driven to madness.

The point is that the infection is more than a simple virus that can be cured. When a person is infected, there is no going back. The victim of the infection is never the same once he or she is exposed. Instead, they fall under the control of a greater influence, becoming "assimilated" in a way (literally in the case of The Thing). With each infected person the power of the otherworldly force grows and becomes harder to resist.

As the thing grows, it becomes increasingly clear that the horror can never truly end, leading to the ambiguous endings of each film. In The Thing R.J. MacReady is eventually forced to face the fact that there is no way to stop the Thing that allows the remaining men to get out alive. The best thing they can do is contain the Thing, after which point a best case scenario is that they will freeze to death in the snow.

There is, however, one thing that adds a layer of unease to this grim final scene. The only other known survivor besides Mac is Childs, who had up to this point been gone long enough to have been assimilated. The one possible indication that he is human is the presence of an earring since the prequel established that the Thing couldn't replicate inorganic material, but who's to say it hasn't learned from its past errors by trying to replace objects it spits out whenever possible. Some argue that Childs is wearing a different-coloured jacket from earlier, although the lighting makes it hard to tell for sure.

Prince of Darkness sees the number of protagonists decreasing at an increasing rate as more and more people are infected by the green fluid and transformed into servants of the eldritch entity that threatens to destroy our world. What doesn't help is the fact that said entity has ensured the protagonists are unable to leave (attempting to do so results in death), making it march harder to evade their infected colleagues as they multiply.

With In the Mouth of Madness, it is a fear of insanity that comes from the popularity of Cane's writing. The book is promised to drive its readers insane. As the story progresses, characters become violent, and seemingly delusional, or is it Trent who has been the crazy one the whole time? As the infection of Cane's writing spreads, it becomes increasingly difficult to comprehend the difference between sanity and insanity.

So in each of these films, the fear comes not from the "infection" itself, but rather from the idea of being transformed by it. These are not merely stories of any old epidemics, but rather the idea of losing your humanity. The terror comes from the notion of becoming one of something else, something that is spreading rapidly. In that sense, they are not solely "cosmic horror" stories, but also stories about the fear of losing your own self to something you cannot control.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Twin Peaks is BACK!

I don't normally discuss television on this blog, but being the David Lynch fan I am, I had to share a few thoughts in light of the recent news that the cult TV series Twin Peaks is getting a revival. I first watched the show while I was in college about two years ago, and I quickly got hooked. It came as a huge shock when the series ended on its infamous cliffhanger, because I was so invested I wanted to see more. I wanted to know what happened to Cooper and all his friends.

Then one day by total chance I stumbled across an IMDB message board that led me to a Facebook page called Bring Back Twin Peaks to TV (now known as Twin Peaks Worldwide). It got me thinking about the idea of a Twin Peaks revival and where such a thing could go. Rumors were spreading for a while and certain actors were expressing interest. Finally, just a few days ago, I was on the IMDB home page and found an article announcing that a revival of Twin Peaks was in fact happening.

That's right. David Lynch and Mark Frost are actually continuing the story of Twin Peaks. This might just mean we'll finally get that long-desired closure. At the moment virtually nothing is known about what is planned for this proposed revival. All I know is that a few actors have expressed interest in returning, Lynch is on board with the project, and it's supposed to be ready by 2016. However, I believe that makes this a perfect opportunity to speculate on where the series could potentially go.

While I'm not 100% certain of who is returning, there are a few characters I can safely assume are not likely to be present in the new series. A few members of the cast have unfortunately died since the show aired. In particular, Jack Nance died in 1996 and Don S. Davis died in 2008. This means that it is unlikely we will be seeing the return of Pete Martell or Major Garland Briggs, at least not directly. In the case of Briggs, while he himself might not make an appearance, he did have a number of mysterious top secret cases that could still allow him to have an (admittedly indirect) impact on the story.

Seeing as it's been twenty-five years since the show aired, it stands to reason that there will be some changes in the cast. I would suspect it to be a mix of old familiar faces (although they will be much older now), and some new characters. There is one new character that was practically set up by the second season of Twin Peaks, and seems a logical addition to the cast. It was established at the end of Season 1 that the police secretary Lucy Moran was pregnant. The show ended before she actually gave birth but she was going to have a baby. 25 years later we could see that child, now grown up. I have a theory for where that aspect could go as well.

You see, I suspect that Lucy's child goes on to become a cop as well. I suspect that by the time this revival takes place, Sheriff Truman will have retired (though that won't stop him from being a major character) and either Andy or Hawk will have taken over the station. I can't quite decide which so I'm leaning towards the possibility that they'll both be running it together, with Lucy's daughter as their newest deputy.

Speaking of law enforcement, that leaves a few questions open about what's been going on in the FBI for the past 25 years. I suspect Gordon Cole might have retired by this point, so I'm not entirely sure if Lynch would be willing to reprise his role. He was always a lot of fun in the series so it would be nice if they could find a way to bring him back if only for one or two episodes.

The rest of the FBI cast will probably be shaken up a bit as well. I can't say I expect David Duchovny to come back as Denise Bryson. Albert Rosenfield might still be there, but there will probably be some new agents as well. I would half-expect maybe a female FBI agent being part of the new cast. It would be a nice change since despite the large number of strong female characters the series hasn't had very many women in law enforcement.

As far as other new characters goes, it would make sense for there to have been a few changes of staff at the Double R Diner. This means we might be seeing some new waitresses in the cast. I also suspect there might be some new criminals (though it would be nice to see a Canadian character who doesn't turn out to be evil for once). It also stands to reason that we'll be seeing some new residents in Twin Peaks with some new storylines but beyond that I could not begin to speculate.

I think it is also fair to expect that we will be seeing more of the Black Lodge. I'm not sure if it would look precisely the same, but presumably it will still have the distorted otherworldly vibe that made it such a memorable part of the original show. It would be nice to see Michael J. Anderson return as the strange "Man From Another Place", but I'd be open to seeing some new characters in here. Frank Silva died in 1995, but I would imagine BOB would still be part of the story. Several people have proposed the explanation that BOB takes on the form of his most recent host, meaning that in this case he could now be played by Ray Wise (Leland Palmer).

Adding a few more levels of curiosity, there are a few characters that died during the run of the show that I'm not sure we've heard the last of. Laura Palmer will likely return through the Black Lodge (in fact one of the main arguments for a revival happening right now was that she herself said "I'll see you again in 25 years" near the end of season 2). Also, it is worth mentioning that Sheryl Lee might just be the only actress on the show to have been killed off twice. She's already played two separate characters so what's to stop her doing a third? Admittedly if that did happen, the big question would be if she gets murdered again. It would be a nice change if she could actually survive for once.

There are a few other characters who could still come back despite having the slight problem of being dead. Ray Wise has expressed interest before, so he might still be able to show up in the black lodge as Leland Palmer (although there is also the theory that he could be cast as BOB). Apparently Walter Olkewitz is interested in returning as Jaques Renault, probably also through the Black Lodge. The show itself alluded the possibility that we haven't seen the last of Josie Packard, who in a haunting final shot is revealed to apparently be trapped in a wooden knob. This plot thread remains unresolved in the existing series, but I do think it could be addressed in this revival.

There was also the issue of Benjamin Horne. In the series 2 finale, Horne was stuck on the head and collapsed with blood on his face, but it was not clear if he was dead or just unconscious. Assuming he was unconscious and got medical aid, it would make sense that he is still running the Great Northern Hotel 25 years later. Perhaps his quest for redemption paid off and business is going even better for him now. Bobby Briggs was also starting to get into business and put his drug life behind him so maybe he's made some good progress, too.

Assuming Ben Horne died, then perhaps it is Audrey who has inherited the Great Northern Hotel. As a teenager, Audrey was always a little bit mischievous and did have a certain fondness for causing trouble, but she could have grown out of it by now. Alternatively, perhaps that just grew into a different kind of trouble and she's becoming much like her father was at the start of the series. She could be involved in a bunch of illegal and shady business.

Then again, she was very close to Agent Cooper, so perhaps she's in the middle, trying to be righteous as inspired by Cooper but also being clever like her dad. Yet another crazy idea for Audrey could eliminate the Great Northern Hotel entirely: seeing as she was very close to Cooper, maybe she was eventually inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement and herself join the FBI. Perhaps she became an FBI Agent hoping she could eventually find out what happened to Cooper after he suddenly started acting all weird.

But of course there is obviously one question everybody wants answered: what happened to Dale Cooper? The answer is quite simple. I still don't know. In the Season 2 finale, Cooper was apparently released from the Black Lodge, only for it to be revealed that he was actually possessed by BOB which in turn hinted at a less than pleasant fate for Annie. The movie Fire Walk With Me had a surreal moment when Annie shows up in Laura Palmer's bed covered in blood, and tells her "The Good Dale" is still trapped in the Lodge (we also see Cooper and Laura together there at the very end). This would imply that BOB is still running around in his body while the "real" Cooper we have come to know and love is still in the Black Lodge.

That seems a straight forward enough explanation for what happened at the end, but we still don't know what went on outside the Black Lodge. Obviously there is good reason to be concerned about the fact that a very likable and trustworthy man has been possessed by an evil entity bent on committing acts of violent murder. The big question is therefore whether there is any way Sheriff Truman could have found out what was going on and rescued Cooper from the lodge. Unfortunately if 25 years have passed, that means BOB could have done a lot of damage undetected. I just hope Cooper finds his way out.

I should clarify that this is all pure speculation. I have virtually nothing to go on as to how this revival will play out. I'm not even sure if this project is simply a one-off season meant to provide closure to his beloved series or if Lynch is actually trying to go all out and get it moving again (sort of like what happened with Doctor Who, only this time involving the original creators). Either way, we should be in for an exciting experience as we finally get to revisit his beloved fictional town.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

eXistenZ: The ORIGINAL Inception

Back in 2010 Christopher Nolan came out with his critically acclaimed Oscar-nominated film Inception, which explored the idea of a sophisticated technology that made it possible for a group of people to enter one person's dream. Naturally it messes with the heads of everyone involved, especially given the job was to plant an idea in a person's head. Really, when you get down to it, the whole movie was essentially a backwards heist film (a group of characters devising an elaborate plan to infiltrate a seemingly impenetrable location and get past all the security systems to put something into a safe).

There's no doubting that its ideas were used well. The whole backwards heist plot was wrapped up in a mind-boggling structure wherein the characters had to enter multiple levels of dreams. Over time it becomes a bit harder to tell dream from reality, and in the end we are left to question if what we are seeing is real or if the characters are still in the dream. There are some serious questions of reality, and it is very effective in its delivery, but the idea of exploring different levels of a virtual world and being left unsure of whether you ever left it is hardly anything new.

Imagine, for example, that Inception was made in 1999 on a lower budget. Replace the dreams with video games. Instead of a heist film, perhaps make it more of an action thriller. Put David Cronenberg in charge and you've got the basic setup for eXistenZ, a surreal film in which we experience a video game within a video game in another video game. In all of the strange experiences the characters go through, a few serious and perhaps ultimately unanswerable questions are raised. Do we truly have free will? What is reality? What is illusion? Is there a true reality or only illusion?

The whole movie begins in what seems to be reality, but early on there's plenty of clues that what we are seeing is not what it appears to be. One of the first clues is the appearance of the "gristle gun", smuggled into a demonstration of a new video game by a would-be assassin. This particular device becomes something of a strange motif throughout the movie, but as we find out later on, it was built by Jude Law's character of Ted Piker within the world of a video game. How could something from a video game make it into reality before that game was even played? The only logical answer is that what we think is "reality" is in fact part of the same video game.

There are lots of other little things. Allegra is a pretty strange name, perhaps one chosen to be gender-neutral so that the role could be played by either a man or a woman. Even more bizarre is when she and  Ted Piker (Jude Law) pull aside at a gas station and encounter a station attendant literally just named "Gas" (Willem Dafoe). It could be a nickname, one which could easily have been picked for someone who was never planned to be a major character, or just a name they thought fitting for a gas station attendant.

Also notice the peculiar designs of the gamepods. As Piker notes, making a fully functioning virtual reality system out of animal parts should be impossible. The products themselves look somewhat sickly, like weird molds of flesh attached to the body by what looks like an umbilical cord. It is also curious that Piker has no understanding of how the games work throughout the film, even though he is in a world where he should be surrounded by them. All this provides a handful of small clues to the reveal at the end.

Early on, an assassination attempt is made on game designer Allegra Gellar (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who flees into the countryside with Piker. Unfortunately, it turns out hiding is not as easy as one would expect. Why? Because a lot of people don't want their perceptions of reality distorted. Their position is not to hard to see, and if we were to develop virtual reality of the calibre depicted here, it would not be inconceivable that certain parties would oppose it.

Allegra and Piker go into the game of eXistenZ to find out if there's any damage, but this is where a lot of the questions begin to come up. So far we think we know how to tell the difference between this game and what seems to be reality. It all should be simple enough, but as we've seen, there are little things that hint that this reality is not actually real, at least not in the way that we understand it.

The world of eXistenZ does somewhat resemble the way a video game today might work, the only difference being that you are fully immersed as opposed to watching a picture on a screen and pressing the appropriate buttons or keys. Many of the people they interact with in this segment behave like video game characters, repeating the same lines when prompted and simply going into a "game loop" while waiting for the players to respond to their dialogue.

The two of them are cast as unidentified characters, people who have to follow an unknown plot. Piker eventually goes on to point out that he doesn't like getting dragged along through this game with no obvious plot or goal, but really what he describes isn't much different from what we would consider to be "real" life. Here, free will seems to be almost non-existent, as both Allegra and Piker find themselves doing things out of instinct without thinking simply because the game requires them to. Piker builds the gristle gun out of habit, which also curiously resembles the same weapon used in the opening scene, yet another clue that the "reality" may not in fact be real.

The two of them finally get out of eXistenZ but things get even weirder. During a brief pause session, Piker notes that "reality" suddenly feels more like a game, and there is a reason for that. When the two of them emerge after apparently finishing eXistenZ, they realise that a disease that should have only existed in the game has somehow bled into the real world and infected Allegra's pod. This should not be possible... unless what we've thought was the "real world" was in fact another part of the game. Just like Inception, they've been playing in layers. What we have seen is literally a video game within a video game.

This notion is enforced when an explosion suddenly rocks the lodge at which Allegra and Piker have been staying, and Hugo Carlaw (Callum Keith Rennie), a seemingly fictional character from her game, enters dressed in combat fatigues. Both are confused about how this is possible. The game is destroyed, but what follows seems to play out like it could be in a video game. After evacuating the two leads from a burning building, Carlaw turns on them only to be shot by Kiri Vinokur (Ian Holm). He also has the gristle gun, and his justification for having it is the same as what Carlaw had told them in Allegra's video game (My dog brought it to me).

What becomes especially curious is the way the battle plays out. There seems to be people running all over shooting at each other, and explosions everywhere, and yet our two leads are able to sit in the open unaffected. In theory, with the chaos building up as it is, they should be in danger of being hit by a stray bullet or caught in an explosion... except it's not real. All that chaos is essentially just part of the scenery, probably serving nothing more than to add to the overall atmosphere.

The game may well have been programmed so they would never hit anywhere near the players, allowing for the final confrontation in which both Piker and Vinokur are shot dead. Additionally, if this is part of the game, and there is an end goal, how much of what has happened over the course of the film was a choice made by the characters? The entire game could have been planned from the beginning to end with the players killing each other off until only one remained.

Allegra is the only one left in the end, and then she is finally left to face the truth that she isn't who she thought she was. In fact, she is exactly the opposite. She stands out in the middle of the battle scene, and suddenly finds herself wearing all this other strange equipment. The reveal is that Allegra Gellar never actually existed. The award-winning game designer was herself nothing more than a video game character, and what we thought was reality was in fact part of another game called transCendenZ.

Suddenly we are back where we started, but things are a bit different now. The game controllers are mechanical in nature, and look like something a lot more plausible than the flesh-based controllers seen throughout most of the film. Those were created purely as a stylistic choice for the game.  With her in the room are several of the actors we have encountered over the course of the film, though all of them appear to be very different people from who they were in the game.

If anything, they are the opposites of their in-game characters. The underground anti-game leader that Allegra and Piker met in eXistenZ turns out to be the game's programmer and despite being as psychotic as he was in the game "Gas" seems to be an okay guy outside of transCendenZ.  This is especially notable when the person we have known as the game designer Allegra turns out to herself be a radical who infiltrated a test of this new game with the intention of murdering its creator. She ends up shooting him and his assistant and almost firing on another player before he asks one simple question: are we still in the game?

This final scene seems slightly more realistic than before, but what seemed to be reality also seemed to make sense compared to the world of the game eXistenZ, and we now know that was all a simulation. This could very well be another part of the same video game, or perhaps an entirely different one. Really, when you get down to it, how can you be sure that what you are seeing is real? Countless philosophers have dedicated their lives to solving this problem. If it is not, what is real? Is anything real? Who can say for certain?

Such is the idea explored by eXistenZ. After playing a video game within a video game one can't really be certain if they are still in yet another game. Immersing yourself into a virtual reality makes it hard to tell just what is or isn't real, but in the end does it really matter? After all, who is to say that anything is in fact real at all. Just what exactly is "reality". These are all questions that can never truly be answered, and trying to do so will only result in disorientation and confusion.

In the end, what we have been led to think is reality was nothing more than part of the game. Everybody seemed to have a distinct personality and yet all of them in the end turned out to be just characters created for the purposes of the game. Memories were distorted and inserted. They didn't even know they were in a game the whole time until it was over. Ultimately, how do you know you are not just part of a video game yourself?

This post was written for the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Slasher Cast-A-Thon!

Wendell Ottley is hosting an exciting event for Halloween, The Slasher Cast-A-Thon wherein we get to put together our own casts for a slasher movie. Apparently the "slasher" has already been cast (though Wendell won't say who it is as of yet), and the way it works is that I'm supposed to put together a group of characters I hate. The one exception is the character I pick to fill out the role of the "final girl", which should naturally be a character I like. I really, really wanted to use R.J. MacReady but the catch is that the characters we use cannot be from a horror film.

So naturally this is a perfect opportunity to vent on movies I hate. It's time to get my revenge on several characters who for one reason or another have pissed me off. Unfortunately it seems a lot of the people I hate are men, so there might not be as much gender diversity as I'd like. Also, I have no idea what all these guys would be doing in the woods together.

James Bond (Sean Connery version)

You should all know my thoughts on the Bond franchise by now. If you're following my blog and you don't you're obviously not paying much attention. Connery's James Bond is a sexist, racist, homophobic, perverted, sick, twisted human being that gets away with all kinds of horrible acts. To him, women are just things to have sex with and then discard, so naturally if the typical slasher formula requires that people who have sex be killed... Bond would be the perfect choice for that role. He can finally be punished for that one time he raped a girl and tried to cure her of being gay. Whatever happens, as long as Bond lives I'm rooting for the villain.

Mr. Conductor (Thomas and the Magic Railroad)

Consider this my revenge for this man almost single-handedly ruining one of the greatest shows of my childhood. He stole the spotlight in a movie based on a series about talking trains and turned it into a confusing series of events involving magical gold dust or some other absurd rubbish. I don't care what this man says. The Island of Sodor is NOT an alternate dimension, and I think the Fat Controller can handle the railway just fine without him.

Brian MacAffrey (Backdraft)

Brian MacAffrey serves as the lead to one of the best examples of everything I am fighting against. Backdraft is an offensive and sexist film that despite being made by a man who should know better proceeds to enforce the (false) notion that firefighting is a man's job. Perhaps taking out the lead of a well-known movie like this could serve as a warning to other filmmakers interested in making firefighting films that they'd better put a strong female firefighter into the main cast.

Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars)

Even in my days as a Star Wars nerd I never really liked Jar Jar (although I tolerated him slightly more). At the time I took it to being more closely connected with my tendency to relate better to human characters (same reason I was never fond of Chewbacca, either). However, as I later learned the real reason I never enjoyed him was because he was an annoying and poorly-written character who didn't really add much to the story. His only real contribution to the narrative (providing exposition about the Gungans so we know who they are during the climax) could easily have been handled without him and we already had comic relief in the form of R2-D2.

Billy Madison (Billy Madison)

Technically any Adam Sandler character would fit right into my list, but this particular one stands out as one of the best examples of why I don't get excited about going to see his movies. Meet the whiny, immature idiot who couldn't even pass the first grade, not to mention he is completely useless in every regard and might be a bit delusional. Whoever our mysterious killer is, Billy Madison won't stand a chance because he'll probably be too distracted chasing an imaginary penguin to even notice the impending danger.

Admiral Harriman Nelson (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea)

This was a ludicrous movie in itself, but the obvious insanity of this one man certainly didn't help. This is a guy who saw the Earth get engulfed in a giant fireball and despite having none of the qualifications to know how to deal with it he concludes the only way to prevent disaster is to get to the deepest part of the ocean by the end of the month and fire a single torpedo. Seriously. By total luck it worked, but odds are against our mysterious slasher he'll have an equally nonsensical plan to deal with his situation, and this time he might not be so fortunate.

Michael Jennings (Paycheck)

This whole movie was one big insult to the dignity of Phillip K. Dick, but it certainly didn't help that Ben Affleck's protagonist completely missed the point of his literary counterpart who, incidentally, ended up in a much better position (in the original story, he gets back into Rethrick Construction as a partner with the implication that he will eventually take over; in the movie he just blows everything up and then goes on to run a plant shop with his girlfriend). Jennings might be the best reverse engineer in the business, but how good are those skills going to do him when he is up against a psycho with a chainsaw?

Lemmy Caution (Alphaville)

This was a bad movie, yes. It was a lazy, terrible, poorly executed mess of a film if ever there was one, but let's look at the main character of Lemmy Caution. He's the most unsubtle superspy the universe has ever seen. He walks around with an extremely conspicuous trenchcoat and fedora waving a camera around in places most definitely not taking pictures that could be useful for espionage purposes. Against our mystery killer his incapability to be subtle would ultimately be his undoing. He would easily stand out and be eliminated.

Final Guy:

David Bowman (2001: A Space Odyssey)

If anyone has a shot at surviving against our mystery killer, it's this man. He is a rational-minded professional who knows how to stay calm even when facing the most dire of situations. While most of the other guys here would be freaking out, distracted, unsure of what to do, or just completely insane, David Bowman is the one man who would keep a level head and rationally work out a solid plan to deal with his situation. He has been through life or death scenarios before in even more confined environments and even faced against a murderous psycho so I think he can handle it.

Don't Do Drugs, Kids: The Lesson to be Learned in Naked Lunch

There is a lot of stuff about David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch I still can’t explain with complete certainty. It is a bizarre movie and at first it is seemingly incomprehensible. However, underneath the giant bugs, the weird aliens, and the surreal international conspiracy, the story is really one about drug addiction. It is certainly an unusual approach to discussing the subject of drugs and how they affect people who take them.

The obvious approach would normally be to clearly show the person's degeneration and how they affect everyone and everything around them. Cronenberg instead opts for a slightly different method by getting inside the head of an addict, and presenting to us how he experiences the effects of taking these weird drugs. The result is a surreal, possibly incomprehensible but strangely brilliant film about just why you shouldn't take any of the weird and unusual drugs people have come up with.

Naked Lunch involves plenty of weird drugs. The whole thing gets started when exterminator Bill Lee (Peter Weller) finds his supply of bug powder mysteriously running short and runs out after starting a job. Turns out his wife Joan (Judy Davis) is the one responsible for its disappearance. She has been injecting the stuff into herself, which according to her produces “a literary high”. It is fitting that something designed to kill bugs is the first of many strange drugs to be introduced. Bug powder is generally meant to kill bugs, and drugs are often known to lead to the deaths of those who become addicted to them.

As Joan describes it “It’s a Kafka high… you feel like a bug.” The reference to Kafka is an early clue to what we are going to be in for with this film. Joan’s remark obviously refers to Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis, which centers around a travelling salesman who wakes up to find he has inexplicably transformed into “a monstrous vermin.” The result of the transformation is often depicted as a giant bug-like creature, sometimes with a human face. Later on we encounter many large and similarly grotesque bugs, some of which are merged with typewriters similar to how the hybrid creature depicted in some illustrations of Kafka's story.

Bill tries to consult a specialist, Dr. Benway, for help with Joan’s addiction. He gives him a powdery substance called “blackmeat” made from giant centipedes, explaining the interesting idea that it is to be mixed in with the bug powder. According to Benway, it will gradually block out the part of the brain that gets stimulated by the drug which makes the addict cease to be addicted. If only breaking habits was so easy, and as you would expect, it proves to be too good to be true.

All that really seems to be accomplished is that Bill ends up getting addicted to the stuff himself. He begins hallucinating, and things get weird. He gets “busted” by the cops for having bug powder, and they don’t believe him when he explains he is an exterminator. The two of them note that they have “a bug” in the office and decide to see how it reacts to the powder. What they bring out is a giant box containing what looks like an oversized beetle that begins talking to Bill Lee through the mouth on its anus.

This beetle seems to be completely unaffected by the bug powder. If anything, it actually enjoys it and even asks Bill to pour some on its lips. The bug in question tells Bill that he needs to kill Joan, and suggests that she isn’t even human. Bill quickly realises he is probably hallucinating, which leads him to kill the bug with his shoe and make a run for it. Still, he hasn't broken the habit, and ends up trying to do a “William Tell routine” that results in him accidentally shooting Joan in the head anyway. As if that wasn’t enough, to rub salt on the wound, the glass Bill had meant to shoot off of Joan’s head is the one thing that remains intact.

This is about the point where it starts to become hard to tell where reality ends and hallucinations begin. It looks as though the bugs somehow influenced him to do the deed of shooting his wife, but at the same time, he was hardly thinking clearly. Even stranger is how Joan immediately complies with Bill’s statement, as though they had done it before. Neither was in their right minds at the time, however, given they were both high and possibly drunk.

The possibility of it all being coincidence becomes even stronger when you consider the fact that it this scene was inspired by a real incident in the life of William S. Burroughs, the author of the book the film was (loosely) adapted from. The actual incident happened in Mexico City, but like the movie, it involved Burroughs getting drunk and accidentally shooting his common-law wife while trying to imitate William Tell (a Swiss folk hero said to have shot an apple off a child’s head with a bow and arrow).

Bill Lee ends up meeting an alien creature called a "mugwump" who recommends he buy a specific typewriter and travel to “Interzone” (a shady port somewhere on the African coast). This begins a strange pattern in the narrative. Bill is clearly shown to receive a flight ticket from the mugwump, but later when asked to present it, he pulls out a bag filled with drugs, and similar interactions happen throughout. The fact that he is this confused seems to suggest he is hallucinating encounters like this one with the mugwump. Later on, typewriters appear normal one moment and as living creatures the next. It all ties into that theme of the inability to tell when reality ends and hallucinations begin, very much the sort of feeling an addict might go through.

The big question is whether there is in fact any truth to the existence of "Interzone". We did see that the "ticket" he presented was a bag of drugs, not exactly something that could get him onto a plane. We also never see him actually arriving at the port. It is possible (and perhaps even likely) therefore that he never actually left his home. Interzone, like the bugs, is all a product of his hallucinations.

he ends up encountering an exact duplicate of his wife in the form of Joan Frost (also played by Davis), along with her husband, a writer by the name of Tom Frost (Ian Holm). One thing about these two is that while these people may exist (and indeed were based on a couple Burroughs met in Morocco), their interactions might not be what they seem. There is one scene early on where Tom walks with Bill through a marketplace and tells him (and by extension, the audience) to watch his lips and listen to what he is saying. Sure enough, his mouth is out of sync with his dialogue, and it remains that way throughout the film. 

This suggests that what Bill thinks he hears Tom say does not actually line up with what he is really saying. Taking this logic into account, it seems that Joan Frost may not actually be a doppelganger to Joan Lee, but rather the result of Bill projecting her image onto another person. Perhaps something about Joan Frost reminds Bill of his wife, and in turn with all the other hallucinations going around, he sees her as resembling the latter. This would also justify why his “controller” (a weird typewriter-bug hybrid) insists that he complete his “mission” by seducing her.

Bill borrows a Martinelli typewriter from Tom, only to find it getting murdered by his own. They show an image of the two bugs fighting but in Bill’s delusional state, he could have easily smashed the typewriter without realising it, and that is probably exactly what happened. He is then told that it was an “enemy agent”, which appears to be from his typewriter in its supposed bug form when in truth it is simply his mind trying to rationalise a spur of the moment piece of vandalism.

The idea that these bugs are more or less hallucination is enforced when Bill goes to see Joan, who reveals that Tom also has an Arabic typewriter. He talks her into writing something but everything seems normal at first. Nothing actually happens until Joan is convinced to try some of the black meat. It is only after she does that the machine begins to transform into a bizarre centipede-like creature, and as soon as it falls out the window it turns back into a typewriter. Also note how the housekeeper Fadela (Monique Mercure) shows no surprise or confusion about the presence of such a thing or how it got there.  

The real question is why did she feel the need to throw a typewriter out the window? Well, later on, we see Fadela at a stall in the market selling black meat. Perhaps she is the one who really has the power in the household, and only pretends to be servatile. This is supported by the later scene where she is overseeing the distribution of Mugwump juice and the reveal about who she really is.

Tom then arrives demanding his Martinelli, only to find it smashed. What becomes really strange is that Bill’s typewriter is in its bug form throughout this scene, and yet when Tom goes to take it hostage he never seems to acknowledge that fact. He never questions the fact that the typewriter is talking and desperately trying to get away. Either he is used to seeing typewriters that can move on their own, or he is seeing something very different from us. The most likely explanation is that Bill is hallucinating, and Tom is in fact stealing a normal typewriter.

Bill ends up passed out in an alleyway and spending some time with a local boy named Kiki, who helps him “fix” the Martinelli. However, instead of being a normal typewriter, it comes out resembling a Mugwump’s head. The keyboard is apparently in its mouth, and it is not clear how Bill is supposed to fit the paper into it, but that does not stop him. Adding to the apparent hallucination is one scene where the “mugwriter” seemingly comes to life, transforming into a full mugwump, and begins talking to Lee before turning back into the weird-shaped typewriter.

Bill has to go see a strange man named Yves Cloquet and is accompanied by Kiki when they ride in the former’s “wonderful car”. During the ride, Bill relates an anecdote about a man who somehow taught his anus to speak as part of a circus show, only for it to eventually develop a mind of its own and eventually seal his mouth shut. This is a weird anecdote, even for this movie, but it might just explain a few things.

It is not clear if this man was someone Bill knew or if it was just a story he heard from someone else, but either way it would explain where that one detail about the bugs came from. The bugs seem to have mouths on their anuses throughout the film, and if they are hallucinations, that means they were created by Bill’s own mind. Having a story like that would explain where Bill’s mind got that idea.

At Cloquet’s house, we get to one of the strangest parts of this narrative. Kiki shows affection towards one of Cloquet’s parrots, and is talked into going upstairs to “play with” the others he owns. Meanwhile, Bill tries to get information about Dr. Benway. After the two spend some time talking, Bill walks in on Kiki being gruesomely murdered by Cloquet, now taking on the form of a giant centipede inside a bird cage. I still do not have a solid explanation for this scene.

Finally, Bill decides to get his old typewriter back by giving the mugwump typewriter to Tom Frost, which he accepts with gratitude and returns Bill his old device. One thing that is worth noting is that Tom refrains from opening the case containing the typewriter on-screen, so we do not know for sure if what he will pull out is in fact the mugwump head or if it is just a regular-looking typewriter. As noted before, the mugwump head was likely a product of Bill’s delusions.

Unfortunately, when Bill opens the case containing his typewriter, he finds it tortured and apparently dying. If there is no international conspiracy going on, than why would Tom Frost resort to torture in an effort to extract information from a regular typewriter? However, Tom did have every reason to be mad at Bill. The man was responsible for smashing both of his typewriters and showed no sign of remorse. It would not be inconceivable that Tom, who in his frustration might not have been thinking clearly, smashed the typewriter in a fit of anger (or possibly as an attempt at revenge). The mugwump typewriter was supposedly forged from Tom’s Martinelli, so in a sense Bill is returning it to its original owner. This in turn allows the two men to reconcile their differences, and as a result by returning Bill his own typewriter he is coming clean about what he had done.

The climax of the film comes up when Bill arrives at a factory filled with mugwumps who are all chained and hanging from the ceiling. Numerous people are drinking some kind of milky fluid out of the tubes in their heads, including several we have seen at different points in the film. Fadela is shown overseeing the process, establishing that she is evidently the one in control and not the other way around (ironic given she was established as the Frosts’ house keeper).

There is one thing about Fadela that comes up, though, which is that she is actually a man in drag. It turns out she is none other than Dr. Benway, the man behind everything. He gave Bill the black meat knowing it was a highly addictive drug and with the intent of drawing him into all kinds of weird things. Apparently black meat is going out of style and mugwump juice is the new industry. Bill agrees to work for Benway in a place called Annexia as long as Joan Frost can go with him.

At the borders of Annexia, Bill ends up in a strange situation. A group of patrol guards pull over his car and ask for some identification. They demand proof that he is a writer by telling him to “write something”. Bill responds by waking up Joan Frost telling her it is time for them to work on their “William Tell routine”, much as he did with Joan Lee. The results are also the same, he shoots her in the head, while the glass on top remains unharmed. The border patrol guards then welcome him into Annexia.

It is harder to pinpoint exactly what goes on in this final scene, but it is possible that Bill is still delusional. The patrol guards’ outfits do look Eastern European, so it is possible he could have ended up in a real country thinking it was Annexia. The real question is why they let him in after watching him shoot a woman for no apparent reason. I’m afraid I don’t know for sure.

Nash and Tara of the website Radio Dead Air have a series called W.T.F.I.W.W.Y. (I’m not spelling out the full title) in which they discuss weird and bizarre news stories that often leave you wondering what the people involved were thinking. As a result, they have developed a few “rules for life” that make sense when you see their show, and one of those rules is “the old drugs still work”. That’s not to say that they encourage drug use, just that the stuff some people get high off of makes things like weed seem mild by comparison. I’m not sure there is a film that better exemplifies that rule than David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch

Really, though, it is something that is likely to deter anyone with the slightest interest in any kind of drug use. We should stop showing drug PSA’s to the kids and instead just do screenings of Naked Lunch. That will keep them away from illegal and harmful drugs. Don't do drugs or you'll get dragged into a surreal international conspiracy with giant talking bugs.

This post was written for the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Kristina at Speakeasy. and Ruth at Silver Screenings