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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

X-Files: I Want to Believe on DVD

I caught X-Files: I Want to Believe on DVD last night-- it's always a hard proposition to watch a movie everyone you know has trashed. (Everyone except my sister, who handed me the DVD and said: Liked it? I've seen it twice.)

  • I can see why, though Ebert loved this movie, it left most writers underwhelmed. X-Files: I Want to Believe is truly a cult horror film, unmoored now from a regular TV audience. There's a moment when former FBI agents Mulder and Scully have to go into the Hoover building and they're saddened to see the new photos-- the new President (nearly the old President) and new FBI Director.) Their look says, this is not our world. Our world is gone.
  • The movie's main failing is strictly a writing mishap-- the writers somehow wedded themselves to a story element so icky that it overwhelms and drags the rest of the movie. Billy Connolly plays the agents' main source of information, a defrocked priest who victimized 37 altar boys and now is receiving unwanted psychic visions. Ho-kay. How did this actually make it through months of meetings? They could have made the priest a torturer, an arsonist, a serial killer of almost any ilk-- and I guarantee you the audience would have slid right past it. Making the character a pedophile is too hard for the audience to get past, and it crashes the movie for most of the audience. I have thought about this problem a lot in writing and tend to think of it as one of palette-- if your palette is slightly creepy horror where most of the gore is offscreen, there are certain things you won't have: Day-glo and people who chase children.
  • What I love: the movie is a taut little FBI thriller like the best episodes of the show. All the elements you miss from the show's best years are there: the crunching snow, high-beam flashlights, and surly FBI officials.
  • For me? A net positive, but someone should have put their foot down on the Day-Glo.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crestwood House: All the Good Stuff is at 791

When I was a kid in Central Texas I didn't just love the library, I loved sections. You know how we complain all the time today that thanks to the Internet, people can spend every day, every hour sealed into their own universe-- Battlestar Galactica or CSI or DailyKos or Little Green Footballs, what have you? Newsflash: we have always been able to limit our own options for input. In the library your niche was a three-digit code. In my case, I stuck heavily to 791.

791? Actually, more like 791.43-- the Dewey Decimal code for the place where the cool books about movies would be.

Books about the greatest horror movies of all time? Here. Danny Peary's books on Cult Movies? Right here. And if you drifted around that shelf, you were right near performing arts and comics. But if what you wanted was yet another book on Dracula, it was here.

I mention this because not long ago I got a discarded copy of the DRACULA book from the Crestwood Monster series. I loved these books because they were written for kids but did double duty, providing a blow-by-blow of a favorite film (the Dracula edition went through the Lugosi classic) and then spent the rest of the book surveying the rest of the field. There were the same stock shots and publicity photos you'd find in Famous Monsters of Filmland-- a magazine I love, of course-- but without the cheesy puns. Even at 10, I knew those puns were cheesy.

What I find fascinating about the Dracula is that it neatly records where Dracula, the film icon, stood in 1977. Think of it: Hammer Studios was running out of steam. Christopher Lee's Dracula, appearing since 1958 and still turning up in new films the 70s, was no longer put to good use, and Robert Quarrie's Count Yorga, Vampire was as state of the art as it got. 1977, you're three or so years into the post-gothic renaissance brought on by The Exorcist and the Omen. Two years before the Langella and Kinski Summer of '79. Years, seemingly eons from the vampire renaissance of Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro-- eons from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, God Knows.

You know what they spend extra time on here? Blacula, a film almost no-one remembers. And the Night Stalker. (In the interest of disclosure, I have published Night Stalker short fiction myself.)

I love dated film books because it's useful to find an unvarnished reflection of what people were thinking at the time, and what they could not anticipate. Opening one is like cracking a time capsule. You just have to find a dusty-enough 791.