Monday, April 18, 2016

American (Zombie) Gothic: Maggie

An almost ridiculously long time ago now, I heard the news that A new zombie movie was coming out that, A, starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin, and, B, was planned as a drama about a father and his dying daughter. An aficionado of sorts, when it comes to things zombie, I confess I was both titillated and confused (in equal parts). As most anyone must have been who has a basic, media-literate understanding of the words "zombie," "drama," and "Schwarzenegger."

It's been well over a year, but I finally had the chance to give Maggie her shot. Let me put this out there right away: Maggie is not a horror movie. Zombies have been a part of our culture long enough now that they are, truly, their own cultural icon. While it's granted most movies, books, and TV shows featuring zombies are indeed of the horror genre, the reality is, they've grown above and beyond that narrow label. Or would, if we would let it. While we certainly have zombie comedies, for example, even they tend to stay planted pretty firmly in the realm of horror. The obvious reason for this -- fandom -- has been more or less enough to keep media companies from taking the zombie too far away from where Box Office wisdom had it firmly planted.

So kudos, first of all, to the team behind Maggie, simply for having the guts to explore where else this particular bogey could hide. Drama was an interesting choice, but the right one -- if for no other reason than the very proliferation of zombie movies that made such a risk possible. Even as a fan of zombie media, it must be admitted that far too often the zombie movie, like most horror media, revels in death nearly to the point of glorification without often pausing long enough to allow the audience to soak in the horror. We settle for the cheaper thrills -- what's behind the curtain? Who's that in the woods over there? -- and ignore the most substantial elements of the fear these movies allow us to explore.

With Maggie, we get something different. We get a movie that, at its heart, is about a father's love for his child. It's not merely a movie about a girl (Breslin) who becomes a zombie. It's about a girl who is dying slowly, watching her body and her mind slowly betray her, worrying simultaneously about what's happening to her and what it's doing to her family -- emotionally and physically. It's about a father (Schwarzenegger) watching his daughter go through all these things and worrying about whether he ultimately will have the courage to let her go. It's a beautiful -- if depressing -- story, and one oddly, uniquely suited for exploration within the realm of zombie cinema.

So, zombie aficionados, I'm not really sad at all to say there are no exploding heads in this picture. In spite of both the subject matter and the headlining actor, there is little in the way of gore, and a surprisingly minuscule body count. Because that's not what this is about.

The traditional zombie movies shows you that the walking undead are scary and dangerous.

Maggie, with its dark social commentary and moments of slow, quiet terror, has the guts to show you what truly makes the zombie horrifying.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday Night Feature: Last Man on Earth

There have been at least four adaptations of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend." Four, that is, if you don't count Night of the Living Dead (and I do not, no matter what Matheson himself says). The second filmed version starred Charleon Heston, and was called The Omega Man. The most recently famous adaptation was, of course, the only moderately awful Will Smith vehicle. I almost didn't count the Syfy mockbuster I Am Omega, but fair is fair. The best adaptation, however, in my opinion, is the very first. 1964's The Last Man on Earth is a decently faithful adaptation of the source material, and is hugely entertaining despite being a mostly one-man show.

This last fact is thanks, largely, to the charisma of star Vincent Price. I personally count this as one of the best-acted films of his career, which, when you consider The Fly and House on Haunted Hill, is saying something.

So pull up a chair. Turn out the lights, and enjoy, with me, The Last Man on Earth!

(Don't forget to add to the conversation in the comments section and on social media with #FriNiFeature)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Adapting for Audio: Shoo, Fly - the introduction

Since I'm adapting some of my short stories into audio dramas for A Flame in the Dark, I thought it might be fun to chronicle some of the differences and similarities in writing for the two formats. In this case, I'm adapting my short story "Shoo, Fly" (available now as part of the 'Zine Killers collection) into a miniseries. Though I'll be adding quite a bit in the way of action and even characters to the series itself, I'm cutting quite a lot out of the narration. As you might expect, narration for readers is a far different animal than narration for listeners. 

So, as an example, here's an excerpt from the opening narration of the short story:

I don't want to speak for what's left of humanity. I have no idea how they thought the world was going to end. Or even if they thought about it at all. If they did, I imagine they thought pretty much along the same lines as I did: A World War III nuclear blast scenario, a fast-acting pestilence -- hell, a zombie apocalypse. But I do guarantee that nobody -- not the Mayans with that calendar they always talked about on the History Channel, not those Nostradamus freaks, not the Nike-wearing Koolaid-drinkers who waited for that comet -- believed that the kingdom of man would be destroyed by houseflies. 

And here are the opening lines from the audio drama:
It’s safe, I think, to say nobody expected humanity to go out this way. Global warming. Natural disasters. All-out thermonuclear heck. Zombies, even. I think I personally expected Wrath of God, but I could have handled zombies. I mean, I’d have been alright with it.
But this? This just feels… stupid

I'll be adding more as the adaptation continues. Thoughts? Too many changes? Just enough? Let me know in the comments!