Unpopular Opinions – Final Destination is a great horror series

The original Final Destination poster, complete with teenagers and skulls


Final Destination is a series of films that I think are underrated. I don’t mean they should be more commercially successful, because they’re already a great earner, but they’re underrated in terms of popular opinion. From the original concept all the way through to the later films, I believe the idea is both original and a sign of how contemporary horror should be done. Here’s why…

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Different things can surprise you

Creepy twins - played by Edmund and Gary Entin

A well made film is excellent. It’s not always good because it’s your type of film, but occasionally you’ll get a gem that whilst it doesn’t convert you to liking another genre, it does pleasantly surprise you. I found this out with a film called Seconds Apart.

What is Seconds Apart? It’s a supernatural horror film about two twins with extraordinary powers. Here’s a quick synopsis from IMDB:

Seth and Jonah are twins with a dangerous ability: telepathy. Things start to spiral out of their control as their classmates end up dying in twisted and bizarre ways. The police suspect them. But, jealousy begins to divide them and soon they can no longer trust each other. Leading up to a horrific battle against themselves.

Why did I enjoy the film? Well, Emily King is far more of a horror fan than I, but this film did have a few nice twists. I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll just have to watch the film! The acting was actually fairly good, and the creepiness factor within the family of the twins was turned to 11. While for the best part of the film, the twins are more or less like-minded in their desire to kill, however the further through the film you go, the more you realise just how different these twins are to each other. Orlando Jones’ character throughout the film was mostly okay, I do feel they may have overplayed the ending. You’ll understand when/if you see it.

Orlando Jones plays the detective that suspects something amiss about the twins

But it’s interesting how people come to like particular genres, while leaving other ones alone. Now I don’t want to turn this post into a genre-based one as that is not my intention. What I will talk about however is some things being appealing outside of you usual genres.

But how do you know what is good if you’re not into it? Well, that’s when you have to rely on the opinions of people that are into those genres. Also make sure they answer why its good. The last thing you want is the advice of someone who considers something a plus, when you consider it a minus. I personally love the idea of a non-physical being in horror films killing people, such as in Final Destination, but some others prefer a good ol’ slasher instead, having an enemy that is not only defeatable, but punishable.

You know the old saying: “Variety is the spice of life”.

Blood, guts and gore – dissecting the zombie film

Zombie attack - one day, it will come...

Zombies are everywhere! Zombies are in our films, in our TV series, in our comics and graphic novels, in our games and in our music. But what makes a good zombie?

There’s two clearly distinct forms of zombism (albeit arguably one isn’t strictly zombie in nature). Not delving too deeply into the origins of the zombie, but specifically media texts, we have the traditional, stumbling around, virtually lifeless. The second is the fast paced, super infectious, aggressive type. Both have their pluses.

Okay, so now we get onto the survivors. There’s always survivors. Nobody will watch 90 minute films with just zombies stumbling around. But since this is an offshoot of the horror genre, we have to have a legitimate fear of death for the characters. That means, we have to see at least one character eaten – preferably more.

Stephen from Dawn of the Dead. A harrowing example of a character well established, and liked, being zombified

Now, with the traditional zombie, we inevitably see group cohesion is quite bad. People do things that mean others and/or themselves become zombie-chow. In the adrenaline infused version, group cohesion has to be stronger. 28 Days Later, had characters that were equally willing to share food, supplies and even kill instantly anybody who gets infected, without hesitation. With Left 4 Dead, we have a group of 4 survivors that have better chances when they stick together – except The Sacrifice obviously. If you want to be able to keep the survivors alive, group cohesion and tensions should be at a bare minimum in the adrenaline version, whereas group dynamics can be played with more in the traditional versions.

Next we have zombie lore. The cause of the outbreak is rarely truly known. After all, the survivors should be too busy trying to survive, rather than looking for the cause. Second, how long does the infection take to set in? This is something that’s often played around with for dramatic effect – sometimes very quickly, other times incredibly slowly. It would make sense that it would differ slightly from person to person, but overall, it should be roughly the same. In Left 4 Dead, the survivors are immune to the virus, but not the violence. 28 Days Later, it’s merely a few seconds.

Situations and locations are the next problem. Having one exit/entrance is better for standing your ground, however, the lack of escape means that it’s either pass or fail. Rarely used in most zombie texts. Then there’s a place with fewer exits. The house in Night of the Living Dead had a few exits, meaning dramatic entrances from the zombies. It’s necessary to note though, most zombie films and games have multiple locations – either locations built up around a larger location (such as the back rooms and the shops in the mall from Dawn of the Dead) or going along a string of completely separate locations.

A legal dispute over the use a mall in Dead Rising has since been settled. It's a shame it was so controversial, as a mall is an epic place for a zombie storyline

Zombieland, while it was an enjoyable romp, did actually go one step further from all of the other zombie films and games – noted what kind of people would be the survivors. The fat people, close knit families wouldn’t survive, but people who are creative (coming up with rules for survival, using environments and weaponry creatively and even downright manipulation to steal from fellow survivors are all hallmarks of the personalities of main characters) would .

One thing that has been shown though – we need more than simple survival in our zombie texts, we need intelligence, we need excitement, we need drama, a unique experience and we need consequences. We also need to know that anyone, ANYONE can be killed off. Even the main characters. Even if it doesn’t happen, we need to know that it can be done – and why it doesn’t happen. What gives them an edge? Militancy, stealth, intelligence, innovation, determination, not taking risks, etc…

I keep coming back to a zombie TV series idea I had a few years ago, which involved the adrenaline based zombies, along with my own additions of uniqueness. I won’t talk about my ideas too much, just in case they actually come to fruition (oh, that would be awesome), but needless to say, it will involve each of the elements described above.

Oh, and remember: Aim for the head!

Sometimes, when it comes to scriptwriting, you just need to start typing

Creepy, no?

This post builds on tip number 9 from Paul’s Tips for Generating Creativity.

Apart from the music I listen to often driving my creativity, partaking TV series, films, novels or videogames also have the ability to inspire me. In the past month, I’ve played Alan Wake and have been reading Salem’s Lot by Stephen King on my Kindle (started on it after finishing off The Dead Zone).

This combination of fictional texts has sent a tumble of ideas and “What ifs?” through the creative centres of my brain. And so a story concept was noted down in my favourite notebook. Then over the last couple of weeks this one story concept has had many notes added to it, elaborations, until finally Tuesday last week saw me write out a reasonable outline for a film script and character profiles for the key parts for the film.

A supernatural horror, it’s one of the few ideas that I’ve had where extra research has not been necessary (’cause a lot of my experience and previously gained knowledge was all I needed). This weekend just gone saw me take a break from fiddling with bits for my graphic novel Displaced. Instead I ended up writing something for fun. Of course working on Displaced has been fun, it’s just that I haven’t worked on any different creative projects for quite some time.

But what do I mean that sometimes you just need to start writing and therefore typing? Well, in my experience a lot of writers can get bogged down in doing research for something, but not actually put anything down that will become the final piece. Whether it’s a graphic novel, film script or a piece of copy for a business’s website – actually starting to write something, even if it doesn’t make much sense at first, is better than not writing at all and instead becoming obsessed with research.

Far too many writers that I know, while great at cracking out a story, can get obsessed with finding out every single nuance related to their idea before they start even putting an outline down. However, I am not saying that research is pointless. If you’re unsure of how something in the “real world” actually operates, then it’s still best practice to track down the info you need, just don’t go reading or talking to five different sources that inevitably say the same thing.

And remember, your first draft of a script (and any other piece of writing) is unlikely to be perfect first time round. Redrafting can be a research project in of itself, as you try to find out what works and what doesn’t work. Displaced is on its third draft and it wasn’t even a graphic novel originally, it was a 5 page comic book short, now it’s 233 pages long.

Tips for directing – Part 2

Christopher Nolan directing Christian Bale and Michael Caine on Batman Begins. Mutual repect is necessary for this to function properly

Following on from the previous blog post (and making up for a lack of one yesterday), we have more directing tips.

6. Trust your crew. Your crew are (presumably) competent in what they’re doing. If they advise another way of doing things that would be safer or more dramatic, listen to them. If they say “this won’t work”, listen to them. While (and on point 1, I’ve stated) it’s ultimately your call, you would be foolish not to listen to someone who is dedicated to a single aspect of the film. They’re going to look at it from the job they’re doing, while you will be looking at it as a director. Mutual respect is better than fear for teamwork.

7. Trust your instincts. While I was still a wee student, I was making short music videos. Often I just pasted together footage I thought would be relevant and go together from video games. I did find that what I was actually doing was bringing out my creativity subconsciously. It’s a general rule, but go with your instincts. If your instincts tell you, the actor didn’t sell the performance enough, or there’s just something wrong in the shot, listen to it. It’s usually right.

Matrix Reloaded - The burly brawl scene. Something was off about a lot of it that revealed the amount of CG used in that scene, but it's difficult to put a finger on. It just felt "off"...

8. Know everything. Both onset and in terms of skills, know everything. Know about cinematography, know about lighting, know about sound, know about focus pulling, etc… The only way you’ll be able to talk with people on a technical level is to know what both you and they are talking about. Too light an image? Know about F-stops. Part of the image is too dark, know about backlighting. On set, you are king, and the king must know everything going on in his kingdom.

9. Know the genre. If you’re doing an action film, and you’ve not seen that many action films, you’re not going to know what the audience will like. By knowing the genre, you create intertextuality, you create interest in an audience. Why do you think George A Romero does a lot of horror films, or John Woo does a lot of action films? They know their genre well. They know what an audience wants out of their films. They know that blood is an integral aspect of horror films and they know how to use special effects and techniques that will get an audience pumped. They know that movement and style go hand in hand, that the more visually arresting images are ones with a lot of contrast. Know the genre and the audience will come to you.

10. Life’s a bitch, and so is the director. A directors job is to assemble, to manipulate and to forge. Sometimes you have to stop being the nice guy on set, stop the goofing around, take an actor aside, make them get into character. A character is meant to be upset? The director will have to get that to happen. Do whatever you need to do – tease, manipulate, scare, belittle, whatever. Your job is to get that out of your actors, and to know how to do it. Your job is not make friends. If you want to make up for whatever you had to do to the actor to get the best performance out of them, show them the rushes. Let them know that they did an amazing job. Let them know it was worth it.

KHAN!!!!!!!! What you don't know is that moments ago, the director told William Shatner that the green lady had space chlamydia

So, that’s 10 tips for directing. Partly borne out of practice, partly theoretical, but all of them are very relevant to getting the best product overall.

Monster ala Mode

A classic horror film

We live in a day and age where our horror seems to have left it roots of the spine chilling to shock value. Gone are the days of hair raising, blood curdling horror to be replaced with slasher and the genre killer that is gore porn. The concept of real terror (e.g. Halloween) has almost been submerged into obscurity. Thankfully these remain in the form of creatures of the night, (not necessarily vampires). Although I am now becoming increasingly afraid that these will suffer the same fate and become a self parody.

If we are to look at the favourite creatures of the night we see that Zombies have become passé, to the point of becoming not scary in the same way that Hitler has become a figure of jest, his atrocities now the subject of crude humour. This could also be applied to everyone’s favourite denizens of hell. Buffy and Angel’s success saturated the market with a million and one different ‘Monster of the Week’ creatures,coming screeching to a halt with ITV’s Demons.

Philip Glenister was wasted…

Wasted. And not in a good way!

Our favourite fanged friendly fiends (alliteration for the win), have enjoyed a large tenure on our screens for far too long. But history repeats itself and vampires are becoming popular again during another depression. People are again looking to the hedonistic, beautiful dark world of the living dead for an escape from this grim reality.

The final nail in the coffin (no pun intended) was Twilight, which had interesting ideas but ultimately felt like fan fiction.

This leaves us with werewolves, our fine and furry friends who have suffered the least in the past decade. They’re enjoying a new re-emergence of sorts. Hopefully we’ll see more of these fine and versatile creatures.

So where can we go from here? We still have a lot of creatures to bring into the greater media eye. Succubus and Incubus in particular, come to mind. They’re primarily sexual creatures, so I don’t think we’ll see Disney doing a film any time soon.

Saying that, a coming-of-age tale with a decent dash of the ugly duckling syndrome could be a success…

Milia Jovovich as the voice of the Succubus. That would be good.

So it’s only Sidney and her dad now, right? (Looking at Scream 4/SCRE4M) (via My Not So Fictional Life)

The Scream 4 analysis continues with Emily King’s take on the film:

http://twitter.com/#!/ek6891/status/60450505196965888 As can be seen from the above tweet, I have a slightly unusual relationship with the Scream franchise of horror films. Having originally seen all of the first three films whilst swimming in and out of consciousness in hospital – after having peritonitis and subsequently spending three days on a full morphine dose regime  – I had never really understood the films. Ghostface, the running plot an … Read More

via My Not So Fictional Life