New in Theaters: ‘The Last Days on Mars’

'The Last Days on Mars': Anybody out there?

‘The Last Days on Mars': Anybody out there?

lastdaysonmars-poster

Ruairi Robinson pitched his sci-fi horrorshow The Last Days on Mars as “United 93 in space.” That’s a pretty gutsy presentation, not to mention almost entirely miscalculated.

The Last Days on Mars is opening this week in (highly) limited release. My full review is at Film Journal International:

Outer space is the new haunted house. There was a time when films about first contact involved actual contact—sure, everybody might end up running in terror from the laser beams, but there was at least some attempt at communication. Failing outright conflict, filmmakers wanted to show mankind coming to grips with some unfathomable extraterrestrial phenomenon (2001 to Mission to Mars). But more recently, from Prometheus to Europa Report, humanity ventures to distant planets only to end up kibble for varied alien nasties. That dulling trend continues in Ruairi Robinson’s imagination-challenged astronauts-meet-zombies flick The Last Days on Mars

You can watch the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘World War Z’

Brad Pitt tries to save his family in 'World War Z'

Brad Pitt tries to save his family in ‘World War Z’

worldwarz-dvdIn case you missed the last zombie apocalypse to come running into theaters with bloody abandon, World War Z is out today on DVD, Blu-ray, and all other home viewing media.

My review of the summer’s surprise hit (all that talk of reshoots and budget problems), Brad Pitt vs. the Flesh-Eating Undead, can be found at Film Journal International; here’s part:

Zombies are people, too. That’s one truth understood by the better stories in the genre, from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. At no moment in Marc Forster’s churning and unfocused World War Z are the rampaging CGI hordes of the undead made to appear like anything more than swarming bits of computer code. Many of the human actors don’t fare much better…

The rather vague ending left a gaping opening for a sequel, which is apparently being planned right now but has not been officially greenlit yet.

Here’s the trailer:

On Writing: Scare Yourself

When zombies attack.

When zombies attack.

Hard as it might be for viewers of the new World War Z to believe, the book that it was based on was neither meant to be tongue-in-cheek or horror. Its author, Max Brooks (the very lucky son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft), intended for the book to examine some extremely real concerns about pandemics and modern society, just as its predecessor The Zombie Survival Guide was inspired by the world’s long inattention to the AIDS plague.

worldwarz-bookcoverIn this profile for the New York Times magazine, Brooks lays out a few things that he believes differentiates himself from your run of the mill zombie writer. For one, his zombies are slow (not like in the very loosely adapted Brad Pitt film): “Brooks is an ardent believer in slow zombies. He doesn’t even want to try to comprehend how we’d deal with fast ones.” Also, he’s just normally a very scared person:

What he can’t understand is the horror fans.

“I’m not a horror fan,” he said. “I’m an anti-horror fan. I think horror fans feel deep down in the pit of their souls, they feel safe, and therefore bored. And therefore they want to be scared. I already have a baseline level of just anxiety about the world I live in,” he continued, metaphorically pushing the horror genre away from him on the table. “I don’t need to go seeking it out.”

No, his books aren’t horror, and he’s relieved that his books aren’t in the horror section. But he’s miffed that they’re in the humor section. “I would have put it in self-help. Or how-to.” He shakes his head. “I can’t think of anything less funny than dying in a zombie attack.”

The lesson here for aspiring writers of horror, zombie or otherwise, could be this: Try to terrify yourself first with what already scares you about everyday life. Don’t go looking for something absurd and unbelievable. Then worry about scaring your audience.

Trailer Park, Halloween Edition: ‘The Bay’

Being that it’s Halloween time, movie theaters should be packed with scary movies. But this year, the fright-fest seems a little light, with the fourth Paranormal Activity and Sinister being about all there is. It’s a positive development, with studios having finally moved away from the endless slasher sequels, 1970s remakes, and torture-porn trash that typified horror films for so many years. The trend now, and it’s a good one, seems to be towards found-footage frights of the post-Blair Witch variety and amped-up variations on the old haunted house stories. Then you’ve got your zombie movies.

Now there’s The Bay, something of a genre-stew that comes courtesy of Paranormal Activity producer Jason Blum and, oddly enough, director Barry Levinson. Better known for Baltimore-set character studies and Homicide, Levinson this time helms a conspiracy- and ecological horror-tinged story (supposedly told via found footage confiscated by the federal government and then leaked) about mysterious events in an idyllic Maryland oceanside town. Flesh-eating somethings, zombies, and plague quarantines look to be just part of the queasy, blood-spattered mayhem.

You can see the trailer below; just wait for the scene with the man holding a fish by the mouth:

Dept. of Endgames

Good enough that Colson Whitehead is covering the Olympics (somewhat post-facto) for Grantland. (His conversations with the W.G. Sebald app beat most of what NBC had to say.)

But even better that once his first piece actually takes him to London itself, Whitehead’s thoughts immediately turn towards the apocalypse:

…I started scoring events in terms of what they’d offer in a human-annihilation-type scenario. Offensewise, archery skills seemed like an obvious asset at first. But the archers’ high-tech bows wouldn’t survive a day of jumping off roofs, tromping through sewers, and escaping cannibal hordes. The bows were items of cruel but fragile beauty, with their carbon limbs and polyethylene strings, their V-bar extenders and side-rod stabilizer doohickeys. Great for the marksman’s art, but no good in a volume-kill scenario. You’d be better off with a simple machete. The qualifying heats made it clear that swimming is a good life skill or whatever, but only marathon-distance swimming was going to help you make it to the island after a squabble over rations or sex resulted in your tiny escape vessel overturning. Triathlon, I decided, with its endurance super-combo of swimming, biking, and running, solved multiple problem areas. I made a note to see it in person.

Whitehead published his own take on the zombie apocalypse last year, Zone One. Not so much archery in it, sadly enough—he left that to Suzanne Collins.