A Deliciously Macabre Cult Movie

 

The Stranger From AfarThe best horror movie I’ve seen in a while is called The Stranger From Afar, or it’s original name, Marebito. Here are excerpts from a review on Midnight Eye: 

“Can I face the terror to which the only escape is to kill myself?” Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the cult films Tetsuo and A Snake of June plays Masuoka, a freelance TV cameraman with a finely honed proclivity for the morbid and macabre . . . 
His quest leads him deep into the catacombs of hidden tunnels that lie deep beneath Tokyo while avoiding the fearsome DERO or “detrimental robot”, rumoured to prowl the subway passages spreading terror. Amongst the subterranean ruins of an ancient city lying far from the sun, he discovers a strange, feral young girl, blank-eyed and barely human in her movements . . . In recent years, wunderkind horror director Takashi Shimizu has forged a rather envious reputation for himself as Japan’s new Crown Prince of Horror.

Read More at Midnight Eye

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Ghostly Influences

King_Jackson_Tremblay

Writing for Nightmare Magazine, John Langan discusses the influence of Shirley Jackson on horror writers like Stephen King, Paul Tremblay, and others. Here are some excerpts from Langan’s essay:

One novel does not a profound and lasting influence prove. However, there are others. Stephen King, for instance, has returned to Jackson’s work throughout his long career. In Carrie, there is a description of the young Carrie White having experienced a rain of stones very much like the one that precipitated upon the young Eleanor Vance. (And the novel’s portrait of the relationship between Carrie White and her mother probably owes something to the maternal conflict hinted at in The Haunting of Hill House) . . . As (King) acknowledges in Danse Macabre, The Shining engages Jackson’s The Sundial in its plot of a family confined to a large, old building while a storm rages outside. King’s script for Rose Red, in which a group of researchers gathers to investigate an infamous haunted house, began as a deliberate response to The Haunting of Hill House. Among recent works by other writers, Sarah Langan’s Audrey’s Door incorporates a rewriting of the opening paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House into a late chapter to signal its conversation with the novel, particularly at the nexus of mental illness, maternal anxiety, and uncanny dwelling places. Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts mirrors the sibling relationship at the heart of We Have Always Lived in the Castle to add resonance to his story of a family under pressure from forces from without and within.

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A Sci-Fi Screenplay Written by Artificial Intelligence

Here’s an intriguing article about a screenplay written by a computer. I found this at ARS Technica.

Knowing that an AI wrote Sunspring makes the movie more fun to watch, especially once you know how the cast and crew put it together. Director Oscar Sharp made the movie for Sci-Fi London, an annual film festival that includes the 48-Hour Film Challenge, where contestants are given a set of prompts (mostly props and lines) that have to appear in a movie they make over the next two days.

“As soon as we had a read-through, everyone around the table was laughing their heads off with delight,” Sharp told Ars. The actors interpreted the lines as they read, adding tone and body language, and the results are what you see in the movie. Somehow, a slightly garbled series of sentences became a tale of romance and murder, set in a dark future world. 

Benjamin is an LSTM recurrent neural network, a type of AI that is often used for text recognition. To train Benjamin, Goodwin fed the AI with a corpus of dozens of sci-fi screenplays he found online—mostly movies from the 1980s and 90s. Benjamin dissected them down to the letter, learning to predict which letters tended to follow each other and from there which words and phrases tended to occur together. The advantage of an LSTM algorithm over a Markov chain is that it can sample much longer strings of letters, so it’s better at predicting whole paragraphs rather than just a few words. It’s also good at generating original sentences rather than cutting and pasting sentences together from its corpus. Over time, Benjamin learned to imitate the structure of a screenplay, producing stage directions and well-formatted character lines.

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Annihilation, the film: A Fresh Review

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Natalie Portman in Annihilation (2018, Paramount-Pictures)

Scott Ashlin doesn’t pull punches. If he doesn’t like a movie, he will tell you, and he will tell you why. Ashlin, also known as El Santo, writes reviews at one of my favorite sites,  1000 Misspent Hours and Counting. Even though he jokingly calls his site “aimed exppressly at wrong-thinking,” Ashlin actually excels at knowledgeable film criticism. That’s why I was so interested in his opinion of Annihilation (2018), based on a book by Jeff VanderMeer, directed and co-written by Alex Garland. Many reviews of this film, both good and bad, seem to have agendas. S. T. Joshi, for example, hardly ever likes the most recent books of the weird or their movies, preferring the old, grizzled masters.  For example, he dismisses Stephen King and champions H. P. Lovecraft. It’s almost as though you can’t be that good if your book has been made into a blockbuster movie. Joshi is a great scholar of the weird, and I enjoy reading him, even if I don’t always agree with him.

But here is Scott Ashlin’s unsolicited opinion of Annihilation. He likes it:

 What I am certain of is that Annihilation is suffused throughout with something that’s been largely missing from mainstream science fiction movies for far too long, a sense of the vast and awesome strangeness of the universe that we inhabit. One of my favorite characteristics of the best and most ambitious sci-fi of the 50’s and 60’s is that it reveled in the majesty of the unknown. . .

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D. Harlan Wilson’s excellent book on J. G. Ballard

Book Review by Bill Ectric

Bill Ectric holding J. G. Ballard book by D. Harlan Wilson

Bill Ectric holding J. G. Ballard book by D. Harlan Wilson

D. Harlan Wilson has made a literary mark in the field of cultural theory, focusing on the loss of humanity in the inescapable rush of accelerating technology, with books like Technologized Desire: Selfhood and the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction and Cultographies: They Live. While his fiction tends to be disorienting (a trait his fans enjoy), his non-fiction has the clarity and delivery of a seasoned educator, as in his most recent study of the life and work of J.G. Ballard. 

Ballard was a vital force in the British New Wave of science fiction whose novels and stories inspired the cyberpunk subgenre, but he is most famous for writing Empire of the Sun (1984) and Crash (1973), both of which became movies, directed by Steven Spielberg and David Cronenberg respectively. D. Harlan Wilson makes a convincing case that even Empire of Sun contains elements of science fiction.

Wilson writes brisk, lucid text that flows like quicksilver. Clearly respectful of Ballard as an author and a man, his new book analyzes Ballard’s singular style, dystopian themes, and sometimes disturbing plots in a relatively simple, but smart, well organized, and skillfully researched masterwork.

Wilson describes how Ballard was less interested in flying saucers, aliens, and outer space than he was in the inner space of our minds, as we become the future, with relentless input from the internet, television, radio, billboards, working and playing inside mega-malls, gated communities, and high-rise apartments. We are the cyborgs, perceiving reality as dictated to us by the very media we covet. Ballard explores how these conditions affect the evolution of life, society, sex, and death. His influences included surrealist painter Salvador Dali, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, transgressive experimental “Beat” writer William S. Burroughs, and media visionary Marshall McLuhan, who predicted the Internet 30 years before it existed. Wilson demonstrates, with fascinating examples, how the landscapes and cities in Ballard’s novels are often extensions or reflections of his character’s mindscapes.

Critics have complained about the violence in some of Ballard’s books. Wilson says, “Ballard didn’t want to see it happen in the real world” and quotes Ballard’s explanation that “notions about the benefits of transgression in my last three novels are not ones I want to see fulfilled. Rather, they are extreme possibilities that may be forced into reality by the suffocating pressure of the conformist world we inhabit. Boredom and a deadening sense of total pointlessness seem to drive a lot of meaningless crimes.”

In 1924, Andre Breton described Surrealism as thought or art created in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. This launched an array of weird, dreamlike paintings and theater. But on a darker note, Breton also said that the ultimate surrealist act would be “to go out into the street and fire a revolver at random into the crowd.” Chillingly, we recall Donald Trump’s words on the campaign trail in Iowa: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like, incredible.” As Ballard said way back in 1971, “Everything is becoming science fiction.”

If you are new to Ballard, this book is a good place to start. If you’re already familiar with the man’s work, you will appreciate what Jonathan Lethem calls “a new comprehensive standard.”

Read More at the website of D. Harlan Wilson