Playing (Script) Doctor: “Dead Silence”

Playing (Script) Doctor: “Dead Silence”

Welcome to Playing (Script) Doctor, a new blog category where I try to revamp past disappointments in the film world to bring out their potential. This is a bit of an experiment; if people like this sort of thing, I’ll open it up for commissions (these take a lot of time to make). While most script doctors are brought in to just punch up existing material, I don’t have the same restrictions, so I’ll try to re-build the foundation of the script in a productive manner as well as changing more minor details, and eventually create an outline for what my finished product would be.

 

Saw was easily the defining horror film of my childhood. Not that I saw it when it came out (I was about eight years old at the time), but I watched its influence spread and its empire of sequels grow larger and larger in real time. I remember being inundated with images of Shawnee Smith with the “reverse bear trap” on her head, of Billy the white-faced red-cheeked puppet, of Cary Elwes in a grimy bathroom considering cutting his foot off. It certainly made an impression on me, even if I’m not a huge fan of it (or its far less well-made sequels), which is more than I can say about a lot of American mid-2000s horror films; it also gave me a lot of respect for director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell and their obvious ambition/talent despite budget constraints.

 

I say this because I want to make it absolutely clear that I take no schadenfreude in the failure of their second film together, Dead Silence. Wan and Whannell were tasked with producing a second film quickly after the already exhausting endeavor of producing Saw, and they tried to make something good out of a bad situation, but a combination of exhaustion and an uncaring studio inevitably made things take a turn for the worse. Whannell was so disillusioned with the experience of working with a major studio that he wrote a blog post describing the myriad ways in which the experience bit the big one, and while it is incredibly angry and bitter, it clearly comes from a very sincere place of betrayal and hurt. They’re not hacks who didn’t know what they were doing, they’re just living proof that creativity can’t be produced at gunpoint.

 

That’s why Dead Silence fascinates me so: it had a lot of potential to be a pretty good horror movie. Maybe not exactly a classic, but definitely an interesting little throwback item for fans of Mario Bava or The Twilight Zone (which Wan and Whannell described as their biggest influences). Instead, the film we got is compromised by both fatigue and personal interference in ways that make the things about the movie that could have been interesting, like a feature-length optical illusion. I chose Dead Silence for this column for exactly that reason, not because it’s exceptionally bad. If I wanted to do that, I’d be talking about some Eli Roth hackjob. So without further ado, let’s get down to brass tacks about how to fix this thing.

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I Dreamed a Trailer

When I have bursts of creativity, often they don’t manifest themselves in the form of outlines or story arcs: I think of enough specifics to sell the film as a movie trailer, and imagine a soundtrack. Like this one, for instance: I have no idea what the rest of the movie would be like or if I’ll ever finish it, but it sure sounds great to me. Let me know what you think.

 

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“King Cobra” isn’t even half as good as most entries in the medium it clearly despises

“King Cobra” isn’t even half as good as most entries in the medium it clearly despises

This review was commissioned by Patrick McClafferty! If you’d like to commission a review, please see my Commissions page.

 

WARNING: the following review contains discussions of child pornography and abuse.

 

There are very, very few queer-themed thrillers that I actually like. Stranger by the Lake is pretty much a classic at this point, The Talented Mr. Ripley is unfairly underrated, and Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man really needs to be seen by more American audiences, but that’s about it as far as I’m concerned. Most of the reason I tend to hate thrillers with major LGBTQ characters is that they either feature said characters doing awful depraved things Because Gay or Because Trans as basically their entire motive (most of the reason I’ve never been able to work up the energy to defend Basic Instinct) or are just painfully low-rent and badly made (Hellbent, widely touted as the first slasher with an all-gay cast, springs to mind).

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How to Resist

When I started this blog, I didn’t think I would ever do anything with it that directly dealt with current politics except through the prism of entertainment. But I realize that’s not enough right now: I need to develop a plan to actively resist the current administration of fear and fascistic control.

Rather than focus on what NOT to do or who to NOT listen to, I’m going to try and keep it positive. Not necessarily that things will be sunshine and rainbows from my point of view, but I want to focus on  what we CAN do. I realize that not everything is going to be possible for a lot of folks due to accessibility barriers, so I’ll try to keep this as broad as possible while offering concessions.

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A Helpful Guide to Films Directed by Women: 2017 Edition

A Helpful Guide to Films Directed by Women: 2017 Edition

I strongly believe in the importance of supporting films that are directed by women, particularly women of color, due to the way that systemic sexism and racism in the film industry keep women from reaching creative and financial peaks. Unfortunately, many films directed by women don’t get as much of a marketing push as they should, so I’m going to make a list of promising narrative feature films that are getting released sometime this year either at a festival or in a wider release, or that are likely to be released this year, organized by genre.

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My Favorite Things: 2016 Edition

My Favorite Things: 2016 Edition

I briefly entertained the idea of doing both a “best” and “worst” list for 2016 in entertainment, but after giving it some thought I decided to just do a “best” list, because 2016 had enough well-chronicled bad shit to make a “worst” list redundant. There was a lot that I liked and even loved this year in entertainment, and I want to draw attention to those things. This list is in no particular order of quality or preference, because if I tried to rank them it’d be pretty arbitrary and largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of wanting to talk about stuff I like.

Also, all comments either on this blog or on social media to the tune of “but what about [film/show/etc.]” or “ew, why’d you include that” will be ignored. Make your own list.

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(Mis)Understanding a Monster: Dracula Retrospective #1, “Nosferatu”

(Mis)Understanding a Monster: Dracula Retrospective #1, “Nosferatu”

Film: Nosferatu

Dracula/Dracula Analogue Performed by: Max Schreck

Year: 1922

Director: F.W. Murnau

Country: Germany

Character Type: Monstrously Othered Foreign Invader

Before we begin, yes, I’m aware that F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu isn’t exactly the first film adaptation of Dracula. There’s a Hungarian film called Dracula’s Death that, like a great many silent films, is presumed lost, though we may yet find a print of it in someone’s grandparents’ basement. As is, there’s really no way for anybody to watch it, so we’ll gloss over it. Dodgier still, there’s reports of a Russian Dracula film from 1920, simply titled Drakula, but there’s not enough evidence to properly conclude that this film even actually exists, so for our purposes, Nosferatu is the first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel.

And what an adaptation it is.

I dare say Nosferatu has produced the most iconic imagery and contributions to modern vampire-related popular culture of any of the material on this list. It’s been visually quoted (particularly this shot) in everything from Batman Returns to Spongebob Squarepants, and its introduction of sunlight as a vulnerability for vampires has influenced multiple generations of vampire fiction. It’s also a huge standout of the German Expressionist movement, a wave of bizarre anti-realism that influenced hundreds of filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to Dario Argento to Wes Craven. Its pop culture imprint is so vast and powerful that it’s almost become its own thing, apart from the novel it’s adapting: it’s been remade by Werner Herzog (we’ll talk about that later) not as a re-working of Stoker’s novel but specifically as an expansion on Murnau’s film. It was also re-envisioned as Shadow of the Vampire, this time from the perspective of a fictionalized Murnau realizing that “Max Schreck” is actually a vampire just like the character he’s portraying in the film, but I’m not going to talk about that in this retrospective (though it is well worth checking out).

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