Tor.com content by

Dayle McClintock

Mega Piranha: an interview with director Eric Forsberg

Fans of the Saturday night staple that is the SyFy Channel’s movie of the week have something big coming to them this weekend. In fact, they have many big somethings coming for them and their tasty, tasty flesh. Get your popcorn and get to a safe house suitably far from the ocean, because Mega Piranha and its hungry monsters are coming to a boob tube near you.

Mega Piranha has got it all: the well-intentioned scientist (played by 80s pop idol Tiffany, no less) only trying to feed the world, the hard-ass military man (Paul Logan) sent to clean up after her experiment goes awry, and, of course, CGI monsters devouring people left, right, and center.

I got a chance to interview Mega Piranha director Eric Forsberg about his latest project.

[Piranhas can skeletonize a cow in 2 minutes, you know. Gary Larson told me.]

Everything Begins, Continues with Choice: Mass Effect 2

Choice is good. It increases the replay value of a video game (always a good thing when you’re dropping $60-70 on it) as you start again to see the world that could have been. Too much choice, however, can stick a gamer with the consequences of those choices not only in one game but in sequels yet to come. There are a few who will actually replay the games, all of them, to pursue different endings, but those people are the exceptions, not the rule. For all that Mass Effect 2 succeeds on expanding upon and enriching the already incalculable depth of its predecessor, it often fails to make a case for its own worthiness for inclusion in the franchise. All because of choices made.

[Story and game play analysis below with some minor spoilers.]

Why the Oscars still aren’t giving genre films the love they deserve

Even if you weren’t glued to the announcement this morning, you’ve probably heard that the nominees for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards are in. And the news is deceptively good for science-fiction fans: among the newly expanded list of Best Picture nominees, no less than four movies—Avatar, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and Up—are genre titles.

Of course, this ebullient crow of geek victory depends on considering Inglourious Basterds as sci-fi because it is an alternate history (though the film itself does not contain any other conspicuous sci-fi elements) and saying that Up qualifies on the strength of a floating house and dogs wearing collars that translate their barks into words. Let us assume, for the moment, that both films do count as genre. Four out of ten nominees for Best Picture are sci-fi films! Now do we declare our supreme geekish victory?

[We do not.]

BSG: The Plan, or: One Last Frakkin’ Dance Around the Round Table

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan was released on DVD and on iTunes last week, and in keeping with Tor.com tradition, we’ve put together a round table from a couple of BSG Round Table regulars, and a newcomer. Is it a glorified clip show? An excuse to show some boobies in the tubs o’ goo? Does it even add anything to the show, or does it put a sour bookmark on the series? Read on to find out….

[Dissenting opinions abound!]

And the Antisocial Shall Inherit the Zombieland

Ten years ago, Brad Pitt made movie catchphrase history by declaring that Rules One and Two were “You do not talk about Fight Club.” Jesse Eisenberg is no Brad Pitt, but you will enjoy his rules for surviving Zombieland just as much, if in an entirely different way.

Zombieland‘s reverence for its genre (and irreverence for pretty much everything else) is what allows it to avoid audience disenchantment with the zombie same-old, same-old. While the setup may appear familiar, the response of the film and the protagonists to the zombie apocalypse is as flippant as those of previous movies have been serious. This is a movie advertising itself under the pseudo-macho tag line, “Nut Up or Shut Up.” Sober reflection on the extinction of humanity this is not.

[Rule #1: Cardio]

Horror in plain sight: Paranormal Activity

Horror movies capitalize on hiding monsters and murderers off-screen, in reflections and in shadows, to terrify the audience with what they can only glimpse, briefly, from the corner of their eyes. This is due to a) imagination being even more terrifying than anything that is actually shown; and b) the limitations of construction materials for making the monster (CGI is good, but not there yet). But what happens when a monster doesn’t need to skulk in the dark or come around the corner to attack? What happens when you can keep an eye on it but still cannot see it? Or stop it? And what happens if there is no escape? What happens if the haunted house follows you?

Paranormal Activity happens. If you go home from the movie not just a little bit afraid of every bump in the night, you weren’t paying attention. This tiny movie, shot for less than the price of a used car, in about a week, rediscovers terror in the white noise of everyday life while destroying the former comfort of horror movies: you don’t have to stop paying attention for the monster to get you.

[Your camera won]

First Zom-bees, now Zomb-ants?

Parasites are amazing…ly disgusting, as the show Monsters Inside Me manages to detail, with stomach-squelching enthusiasm, each week. Parasites have co-evolved to outwit and co-opt their intended hosts’ biology in such incredibly intricate, devastatingly effective ways. (Just ask any cat lady who’s contracted Toxoplasma gondii.) Much as it always freaked me out to read the sections on parasites in my biology textbooks, I did have to sort of admire their ruthless success.

Until I read about zombie fungus.* I have a zero tolerance policy for zombie-inducing anything—viruses, strange green meteorites, or parasites. (Like the zom-bees of the video game Dead Rising. Not. Cool. Capcom.) For now, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is content to control the brains of carpenter ants, taking a species that evolved to live in trees, probably to avoid O. unilateralis in the first place (canopy:barricaded mall as ants:humans in the zombie outbreak), and death-marching them across the forest floor. All in the name of spreading the zombie fungus spores. What happens when it makes that critical evolutionary leap to infect other hosts? Bipedal ones, perhaps?

Obviously this cannot stand, and now we have the statistical proof: Canadian maths** professors concluded that only a massive, unrelenting campaign to destroy zombified humans would halt the undead takeover, according to their model of a theoretical (I say, inevitable) outbreak of zombies. The results do not surprise this long-time fan of Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide. (Name your favorite weapon, mode of transportation, and secure habitat in comments!) True, it is difficult to trust a man named Robert Smith? given that the question mark, which is actually part of his name, leads one to unconsciously question everything he says. But he’s not wrong. (He’s just weird, okay?) The zombie fungus, and all infected by it, have to go. Right now. Math said so.

* – The PubMed link to the article—for those with access and inclination to read scientific papers—is here. PMID: 19627240

** – They say “maths” (as opposed to “math”) in most countries where the Queen’s picture is on the money, so I made an assumption. Canadians are free to correct me.

[Image from Flickr user Il conte de Luna, cc-licensed and modified by the lolbuilder.]


Dayle McClintock is one Romero movie short of a zombie bingo.

Deadgirl: the horror of the modern male

Horror, like pornography, often focuses on violations of the body. Which is why it is surprising that it has taken as long as it has for a movie like Deadgirl to make the intuitive leap and feature rape (without the comfortable distance of metaphor) as the central violation of a body in a horror film. Horror is also a reflection of our anxieties: about sex, about strangers, about terrorists (which explains the explosion of torture porn following 9/11). As the financial world crumbles and the poor get poorer, horror turns to examine power—the loss, the gain, and the transfer of it. Rape is just a different kind of struggle between the powerful and the powerless.

[Hard to imagine anyone handling it tastefully, but… (Warning for potentially disturbing content below the fold.)]

Good News, Everyone!

In a move that will give hope to every Johnny and Suzie Save-My-Show petitioning the powers that be, 20th Century Fox and Comedy Central have announced that they are bringing back Futurama. Not as another series of overlong, underplotted movies but as a twenty-six episode season. Another miracle wrought by the powerful combination of technology and consumer whoredom! Like your show? Better buy those DVDs!

[Sweet cable of Babel!]

A Movie Sell-Out Survival Guide: Summer 2009 Edition

When last I left you intrepid theater-goers, I predicted Dragonball would tank, Wolverine would rake the box office over, and Star Trek was would shovel the dirt over the franchise after Star Trek: Enterprise nailed it inside its coffin.

So, I am 1.5 for 3. I give myself 0.5 on the Wolverine front because it did sell out opening weekend, but it dropped so precipitously, you’d think some of the reels of the film caught fire. (Probably because of there being too many hot guys in one movie.) That’s pretty damned pathetic. Let’s hope I do better with my Summer 2009 Opt-Out Schedule.

[Why have genre films forsaken the summer months?]

Lights, Camera, Action Figures

I had the good fortune to sit in on the ItsJustSomeRandomGuy panel at NY Comic Con, and ever since then, I’ve kept up with RandomGuy’s “I’m a Marvel, and I’m a DC” clips via his Twitter. You’d think RandomGuy would be hard-pressed to top the mockery of 2008’s bumper crop of comic book adaptations.

Then he paired Rorschach with Wolverine and let them have an Inner Monologue-Off:

[The rest, as they say, is history. Warped, perverse history.]

The NeverEnding Remake

Funny, I was just reading about the insane amount of money that the Friday the 13th remake made, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but news of another remake of a film I hold dear. (Okay, so I’m not a poet.) The Kennedy/Marshall Co. (who brought you The Case of the Curiously Long Movie) and Leonard DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company have acquired rights to The NeverEnding Story. They are apparently in discussions with Warner Bros. about “reviving the 25-year-old franchise with a modern spin.”

This remake bug is damned infectious. (Total Recall? The Crow?) Remaking slasher films is just a way to repackage sequels so people will see them in the theater. But remaking iconic fantasy films like The NeverEnding Story is a challenge—to the genre, to the fans of the work—and it’s not one to be undertaken lightly.

[Read more…]

A Movie Sell-Out Survival Guide: Spring 2009 Edition

2009 could be the year that puts the soaring success of the science-fiction and fantasy films of 2008 to shame. Major franchises will reboot, spin-off, and flash-forward. The story they said no one could film will kick off the ever-expanding blockbuster season. And Hollywood will be laughing all the way to the bank with their share of your $13 per ticket. Expect tickets for Watchmen to be snapped up quick, pre-ordered by people who wouldn’t know Alan Moore from Rob Zombie. (To be fair, it is hard to tell some times. I get Alan Moore’s girlfriend confused with Rob Zombie.)

Sold-out shows for genre films will be the norm rather than the exception, even for those with the mediocre buzz of Star Trek: 90210. The recession-strapped geek must be discerning with his or her cash and select which films are worth the $2 Fandango pre-order investment in order to secure seats on opening night. I present to you my suggested Spring 2009 Opt-Out Schedule. As a courtesy, I include alternative opening-weekend releases, for those of you who try and fail to get tickets for the genre film of your choice. There is always something else to see on a Friday night.*

[* – Except for one unfortunate weekend in May.]

Revenge of the Tiny Panels

I am not a con-virgin. I have been to two teeny-tiny cons before this year, but in no way did they prepare me for the might and madness that is New York Comic Con. Truly, this is an awesome experience, and I’m glad that I walked among the gods and goddesses, famous or no. However, I am no fan of crowds, and I had few panels or booths or guests that I absolutely had to meet. This is due partially to my celebrity non-interaction policy but also due to a sense that I, while a fan, haven’t got it in me to deprive keener fans of a chance to see their idols. (Especially not when so many had dressed up as characters from the shows/movies/comics produced by the guest speakers or were wearing the affiliated merchandise.)

I was too busy chasing people down for pictures to stand in lines anyway.

As such, I decided to stick to panels that interested me for their subject rather than the celebrity status of the guests. The feminist in me immediately drifted towards Saturday’s “Representation of Women in Comics” panel run by the nonprofit Friends of Lulu. I anticipated some griping about the likes of Rob Liefeld (who I passed by on the main floor without laughing and pointing, which I consider a moral victory). Maybe some discussion of Chris Claremont’s work, with his compensating for traditional oversight with extraordinarily overpowered female characters. Maybe some discussion of manga’s influence, since it is clearly a marketing force with which to be reckoned and draws in the sort of female readership for which most American titles would kill. I wanted war stories from the mostly female panel and I wanted the outsider-looking-in, insider-looking-out perspective of the panel’s lone male voice. I would have been happy with anecdotes so long as they were stuffed with details.

[Read more…]

NYCC: Adventures in Costume Elitism

For someone neither in shape to wear nor talented enough to create elaborate costumes, I am a picky, fickle sort of costume photographer. (Not to mention a lousy one.) I didn’t take pictures of any well done costumes I didn’t recognize. (Sorry, shoujo fan- (and frequently cat-) girls!) I only took pictures of superlatively awesome and/or singularly unique costumes. Because I don’t care how many hours you spent spray-painting your head electric green: if you’ve seen one Joker, you’ve seen him a thousand times. People in rubber masks (if they didn’t make the masks themselves) are cheaters, so no pictures on the internet for them. And because I’m a crotchety old lady, the bias of the costumes I tracked down reflect a late 1980s-early 1990s childhood.

Sue me later; for now, enjoy these poorly lit and framed photos of my favorite conventioneers.

[Not pictured: all the women in corsets. More corsets than you]