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Tag Archives: Horror

Monsters and Madmen

“Coming from a time when cinematically horror and science fiction often blended together, both venturing into the exploration of the unknown, these movies date back to a time when horror was more than slasher flicks and science fiction was more than another asteroid about to plow into the earth.

All four of them treat the progress of science as opening up more doorways that should have perhaps remained closed and letting in the terror.

Boasting a heritage, long lost in both genres, what these four films have in common is that despite their awkward dialogue and plot twists that will appear cliched to the modern viewer who has grown used to watching movies whose filmmakers have the benefit of decades of experience, they are not the bland corporate studio products of the modern cinema, but a daring exploration into the unknown.

Long before transgressive art was transgressive, horror and science fiction flicks, even at their cheesiest, were transgressive summoning up monsters and madmen from the id, stalking the bloody corridors of human nightmares and digging out what was hidden within their walls. The classic horror film was the grandfather of nightmare, the ancestor of terror and their feeble progeny today that rely entirely on blood, gore and musical cues, cannot hold a flickering candle flame to their innate terrors.”

Read more here. Monsters and Madmen – Classic horror & sci-fi on DVD

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Regeneration

“Regeneration”

Summary: The Borg make a comeback as Enterprise goes where just about every Star Trek series has gone before.

There’s nothing precisely wrong with “Regeneration.” Unlike some of the more mediocre NEXT GENERATION and VOYAGER efforts, it manages to let the Borg keep their dignity while portraying them as ominous and menacing. It doesn’t reduce them to a single oversexed Borg queen and even gives them back some of their mystery. But at the same time there’s nothing precisely right about “Regeneration” either. Maybe over the past decade the potential of the Borg has been thoroughly tapped out by various STAR TREK spinoffs or maybe any future Borg episodes or movies need to break new ground to be effective. Either way, despite striking work by David Livingston, particularly in the arctic scenes, and an adequate enough script, “Regeneration” ends up regenerating all the cliches resulting in an episode that just doesn’t add up to much of anything.

Like FIRST CONTACT, the movie that the episode serves as a pseudo-sequel to, “Regeneration” plays as a horror movie with the Borg as the monsters. Beginning with the arctic discovery scene that suggests a homage to the classic Sci-Fi monster film, THE THING, the Borg appear as monsters safely buried until somebody foolish enough digs them up resulting in the usual havoc horror movies are made of. Substitute mummies or vampires for Borg and you could have pretty much the same episode, and there is a case to be made for arguing that the Borg are indeed space-age vampires. After all, they’re nearly invincible to ordinary unmodified weapons. They infect their victims, making them one of their kind with double-fanged incisions causing them to lose their humanity. They rest in special alcoves analogous to vampire coffins. And like all vampires the final confrontation with them, in any number of the Borg episodes, from their first appearance to this one where Archer plays Van Helsing, involves a trip to their lair.

What has elevated the best Borg episodes above mere space fright has been the examination of the borderline between human being and Borg in episodes like “The Best of Both Worlds,” “I, Borg” or “Dark Frontier” rather than reducing the Borg to shambling monsters. “Regeneration” makes some attempt towards incorporating such a storyline with Phlox’s infection, which also results in some of the episode’s best scenes including a memorable exchange with Hoshi. But it never really explores the boundary between individuality and collectivism as the above mentioned episodes did, instead it mainly features Phlox being sick. Archer’s storyline that deals with his realization that he can’t save the research team is plausible enough, though never really gripping. It might have been more gripping if Enterprise crewmembers had been on that transport forcing Archer to sacrifice the lives of his own people. But as it is Archer is once again coming to realize something the audience already knows, which may make for some character development but not for interesting viewing.

“Regeneration”‘s resolution also comes a little too unbelievably easy considering what a challenge the Borg were for Picard and Co. in the 24th century while Archer and Co. experience much less trouble disposing of them in the 22nd century. Admittedly they are facing weaker and smaller numbers of Borg but the key Borg strategy in this story is a timed shutdown of Enterprise’s power systems at a critical moment, which is a bit too cunning for the more literal-minded Borg, who traditionally utilize direct smash and grab tactics.

But mostly “Regeneration” is an episode-scale reworking of FIRST CONTACT without a revenge motive for the captain or a master plan for the Borg. And without a significant motive on either side, it’s is reduced to another ‘Borg as Monsters’ plot that could have been done with any number of monsters or races. There’s no real risk for the Enterprise because “Regeneration” is a stand alone episode with no future repercussions despite its ending since we know that it’s Q who will bring the Enterprise-D into contact with the Borg well ahead of schedule. And there’s no new ground being broken because “Regeneration” offers nothing in the way of a plot that we haven’t seen before. With those factors eliminated the only justification for the episode seems to be the need to exploit the Borg one more time in the hope of boosting ENTERPRISE’s ratings. So instead of the Borg assimilating the series to add to its perfection, ENTERPRISE assimilates the Borg to add them to its mediocrity.

Next week: Can the show do better with two chances on one night?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Impulse

“Impulse”

Overall episode score: 7.0
Performances: 6.5
Writing: 5.0
Direction: 8.0
FX and Production Values: 8.0

Summary: ENTERPRISE does EVENT HORIZON with Vulcan zombies. Fortunately there’s a method to the madness.

star trek enterprise impulseThus far s three has not exactly been T’Pol’s year. Her primary role on the show seems to have been to serve as Trip’s unclad masseuse and in the last two episodes she’s hit a particularly low point. In “Extinction” she was reduced to helplessly scrambling away from the mutated crewmembers like an extra in a slasher movie with no trace of the specially trained operative with Vulcan strength her character is supposed to be. In “Rajiin” she was reduced even lower to a psychic rape victim. This week she’s back in sickbay again but at least there’s some character development in it for her.

EVENT HORIZON substituted a spaceship for a haunted house and a mysterious faster than light space drive for an Indian burial ground, but essentially the material was the same. Ever since the Vulcan ambassador tried to frighten Archer with grainy green videotape of psychotic Vulcans running amok in the expanse, the resemblance to the movie’s data log was unmistakable. And since ENTERPRISE’s early season episodes tend to be better on continuity, Vulcan zombies was a concept that a Brannon Braga-produced series could never pass up; it was almost inevitable that Enterprise would run into them sooner or later. Once it does the resulting plot is a predictably formulaic series of zombie chase scenes not significantly different from most horror movies or for that matter STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, except that the Vulcan zombies are never scary. The results are more reminiscent of season two’s “Sleeping Dogs,” in which characters scramble around a rundown broken Klingon ship with a Klingon stalking them. The one thing STAR TREK has never really done well is horror and “Impulse” is no exception. Still, veteran Trek director David Livingston goes all out to do some great work right down to the flashy, final horror movie-style nightmare sequence and if “Impulse” never manages to be disturbing, it’s not his fault. Even the FX are well directed with dramatic pans across an asteroid field roiling with tumbling rocks.

Vulcan zombies are just hard to take seriously and horror is premised on the idea that the characters are in a situation beyond their control and in which some of them will not survive. On STAR TREK, on the other hand, the situation is almost always under control, even if it’s via Deus Ex Technobabble, and we know the cast members will survive. The franchise simply doesn’t do horror well because TREK episodes are too afraid to let go of their control. The only out-of-control element involves T’Pol’s growing instability but at this point seeing crew members go wonky is nothing special. Archer, Reed, and Hoshi did it two episodes ago and the last time T’Pol lost her sanity was during last season’s “Bounty,” not to mention “The Seventh” or “Strange New World.” Fortunately, unlike “Bounty”‘s abysmal T’Pol B-Plot, T’Pol’s instability here serves to allow some character development.

“Impulse” also features a long overdue look at how the crew has been coping with their mission and the Expanse. A look that should have been part of the arc and developed episode by episode instead of giving us Archer as an alien werewolf, T’Pol’s massage parlor, the obnoxious alien of the week or any of the other nonsense that has sidelined season three’s promising storylines. It’s nice to see a return of movie night and a discussion about morale as ENTERPRISE picks up on season two material right down to T’Pol silencing Phlox at the screening. That’s the kind of thing that lets us see Enterprise as a single entity, a ship and a crew, rather than the cast wandering around through empty hallways while battling the alien of the week or a virus of the week whom we’re certain to never see again. Like TNG’s Ten Forward or DS9’s Promenade or Voyager’s Holodeck, it’s important to emphasize rituals that bind the crew together outside emergency and duty situations. It’s what makes the setting of the ship, and by extension the show, three-dimensionally believable.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Regeneration

Summary: The Borg make a comeback as Enterprise goes where just about every Star Trek series has gone before.

There’s nothing precisely wrong with “Regeneration.” Unlike some of the more mediocre NEXT GENERATION and VOYAGER efforts, it

star trek enterprise regeneration

"Wait, a Starship named Enterprise. Haven't we done this before?"

manages to let the Borg keep their dignity while portraying them as ominous and menacing. It doesn’t reduce them to a single oversexed Borg queen and even gives them back some of their mystery. But at the same time there’s nothing precisely right about “Regeneration” either. Maybe over the past decade the potential of the Borg has been thoroughly tapped out by various STAR TREK spinoffs or maybe any future Borg episodes or movies need to break new ground to be effective. Either way, despite striking work by David Livingston, particularly in the arctic scenes, and an adequate enough script, “Regeneration” ends up regenerating all the cliches resulting in an episode that just doesn’t add up to much of anything.

Like FIRST CONTACT, the movie that the episode serves as a pseudo-sequel to, “Regeneration” plays as a horror movie with the Borg as the monsters. Beginning with the arctic discovery scene that suggests a homage to the classic Sci-Fi monster film, THE THING, the Borg appear as monsters safely buried until somebody foolish enough digs them up resulting in the usual havoc horror movies are made of. Substitute mummies or vampires for Borg and you could have pretty much the same episode, and there is a case to be made for arguing that the Borg are indeed space-age vampires. After all, they’re nearly invincible to ordinary unmodified weapons. They infect their victims, making them one of their kind with double-fanged incisions causing them to lose their humanity. They rest in special alcoves analogous to vampire coffins. And like all vampires the final confrontation with them, in any number of the Borg episodes, from their first appearance to this one where Archer plays Van Helsing, involves a trip to their lair.

What has elevated the best Borg episodes above mere space fright has been the examination of the borderline between human being and Borg in episodes like “The Best of Both Worlds,” “I, Borg” or “Dark Frontier” rather than reducing the Borg to shambling monsters. “Regeneration” makes some attempt towards incorporating such a storyline with Phlox’s infection, which also results in some of the episode’s best scenes including a memorable exchange with Hoshi. But it never really explores the boundary between individuality and collectivism as the above mentioned episodes did, instead it mainly features Phlox being sick. Archer’s storyline that deals with his realization that he can’t save the research team is plausible enough, though never really gripping. It might have been more gripping if Enterprise crewmembers had been on that transport forcing Archer to sacrifice the lives of his own people. But as it is Archer is once again coming to realize something the audience already knows, which may make for some character development but not for interesting viewing.

“Regeneration”‘s resolution also comes a little too unbelievably easy considering what a challenge the Borg were for Picard and Co. in the

star trek enterprise regeneration

"Resistance is futile. Resist... You know with our track record, it's probably not futile. Go ahead and resist."

24th century while Archer and Co. experience much less trouble disposing of them in the 22nd century. Admittedly they are facing weaker and smaller numbers of Borg but the key Borg strategy in this story is a timed shutdown of Enterprise’s power systems at a critical moment, which is a bit too cunning for the more literal-minded Borg, who traditionally utilize direct smash and grab tactics.

But mostly “Regeneration” is an episode-scale reworking of FIRST CONTACT without a revenge motive for the captain or a master plan for the Borg. And without a significant motive on either side, it’s is reduced to another ‘Borg as Monsters’ plot that could have been done with any number of monsters or races. There’s no real risk for the Enterprise because “Regeneration” is a stand alone episode with no future repercussions despite its ending since we know that it’s Q who will bring the Enterprise-D into contact with the Borg well ahead of schedule. And there’s no new ground being broken because “Regeneration” offers nothing in the way of a plot that we haven’t seen before. With those factors eliminated the only justification for the episode seems to be the need to exploit the Borg one more time in the hope of boosting ENTERPRISE’s ratings. So instead of the Borg assimilating the series to add to its perfection, ENTERPRISE assimilates the Borg to add them to its mediocrity.

Next week: Can the show do better with two chances on one night?

Star Trek Voyager The Haunting of Deck Twelve review

Horror is the dark side of imagination and while Star Trek has a pretty good track record with imagination, it has a pretty weak one with horror. Original series episodes featuring witches and salt monsters were unintentionally funny. The Next Generation with its vast sterile sets and long space hospital corridors which had an eerie haunted hotel look ala The Shining, was long on unusual camera angles and filters and low on story and content. DS9 for all its gritty look and people possessed by glowing red-eyed demons never made a serious horror entry after the first season. Voyager with its own organ stealing aliens, a demonic clown, and the Doctor stalking Kes equipped with a set of bad false teeth did its best and had no shortage of genuinely disturbing moments but never managed to turn them into an entire episode.

By contrast “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” which references the Shirley Jackson novel in the title but actually seems more inspired by the Star Trek Voyager The Haunting of Deck Twelvedisappointing horror movie loosely based on the novel and the episode itself shows that it has learned both from the failure of that movie and the franchise’s failed previous attempts at horror and melds the material with more than a slight touch of comedy, alien encounter and yet another in-depth look at Voyager’s modus operandi. The origin of Haunting can really be found in a scene from an earlier Voyager episode “Dragon’s Teeth” that has Neelix researching ancient fairy tales with gruesome titles while the cooking fire burns in the foreground. While that scene was a minor moment in “Dragon’s Teeth”, Haunting centers the entire episode around it. If Haunting could be summed up in one sentence it is really this scene of Neelix letting his imagination run wild in the deserted mess hall while the fire burns… and having his nightmares come true.

Neelix has always been of questionable use on Voyager. He has many jobs but few of them are really vital in a crisis and so what is he assigned to do in a dangerous situation but babysit children. While unseen to us, Voyager resolves a still potentially dangerous situation, and Neelix is sent to go and make sure the children aren’t frightened by the darkness and the unexplained shutdown. The problem is that Neelix himself is frightened and in a short time his fear translates into a scary story he starts telling the children, a story that happens to be true. Here Voyager again returns to its common theme of highlighting the story within the Voyager story. Where “Muse” looked at Voyager’s story conventions from an alien perspective, Haunting looks at them from the perspective of a child… the actual Borgites and the man-child that is Neelix himself.

In one sense a flashback episode and yet not, Haunting occurs mostly in the past but it really plays out in the present as Neelix, frightened of Star Trek Voyager The Haunting of Deck Twelvewhat may be happening yet cut off from information as to what really is happening, turns to the past and to the origin of the crisis. He does what human beings sometimes do to take control of a dangerous situation beyond their physical control, he turns it into a story. “The Haunting of Deck Twelve,” which is really Neelix’s story, takes control of the situation by centering on the heroism and capability of Captain Janeway who really is in control right now; and in a minor way on the smaller heroism of Neelix who is afraid and isn’t in control. Unlike the common accusation made against Science Fiction and Star Trek, though the story is not escapist in the least, it is to the truth colored and transformed in a way that allows Neelix to come to grips with his fears. This is what horror is really all about: transforming real threats into unreal monsters and then conquering them and this is what “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” is also about.

In a story loaded with jabs at modern day horror movies (the children are smarter than Neelix and know everything ahead of him, Seven unhurriedly walking directly into danger as she is being stalked by truly awful special effects) and Star Trek conventions (so the alien takes over Seven’s neural circuitry and turns her against the crew?) and the entire process of storytelling (Chakotay was plummeting to his certain death… would anyone like more snacks?), Haunting also manages to look at Voyager’s encounter with an ambiguous alien entity who is neither good nor evil but (like Voyager) just wants to go home.

While after hundreds of Star Trek episodes the basic plot of Haunting might seem like a cliche, but through the eyes of the children and Star Trek Voyager The Haunting of Deck TwelveNeelix it takes on new and dangerous life. The entity they encounter never speaks to Voyager directly, instead using the interface of the ship’s computer for a disturbing inhuman effect. We never really see the entity either, unlike most Star Trek alien beings it never states its intents directly instead using the ship’s stock of command phrases to communicate in riddles. The children are right in that there is a monster on deck twelve, a monster who has been here all along with the power to destroy Voyager. We along with the children, in a sense, have been on Voyager all along and have never known it and together with the children we are Neelix’s intended audience. The revelation is disturbing to them as to us not so much because the entity is dangerous, but for the same reason Star Trek uses alien possession and ship haunting stories so frequently, because it turns something we thought was safe and familiar into something dangerous and alien.

There are many techniques here which should inform future Voyager episodes. Neelix’s fear and his complete helplessness combined with his small feats of bravery in coping with the problem makes the crisis more real and relevant for us then if it were seen through the eyes of a trained Starfleet Officer. There are times when Janeway too seems helpless and desperate herself rather then controlled and in command (an unusual risk for Voyager, one the writers hopefully repeat) of her ship, the one true and trusted confidante and ally which has betrayed her. The speed and precision with which the crew shuts down Voyager combined with the lack of an explanation is disturbing. Because Neelix handles all the build-up and the chills very little time is spent discussing the crisis and most of the effort is expended on just dealing with it and trying to stay alive.

Director David Livingston takes full advantage of Voyager’s damaged conditions and its TNGesque smooth surfaces and bright lighting to Star Trek Voyager The Haunting of Deck Twelveproduce effects that are sometimes comically over the top, sometimes creepy and sometimes both (never an easy task.) Voyager isn’t the Enterprise D and never quite manages to convey that feeling of a haunted hotel and the result is more like a haunted battleship, a place where people work and live temporarily turned dark and haunted. The Ensign serves nicely as a returning character who plausibly jumps at every shadow, the children again work very well standing in for the audience, at once sophisticated and disbelieving and nervous and terrified and enjoying the whole thing. Seeing Voyager through their eyes gives us a fresh perspective and a fresh reality and turns what would otherwise be a formula episode into something more in the off-beat quirky Voyager style.

Like a campfire story “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” isn’t particularly substantial but also like a campfire story, Haunting is fun. The episode knows where it’s going, manages to combine horror and humor while also taking a look at how Voyager functions, showing us the ship with fresh eyes and even including some nice character work on a usually neglected Voyager character. This is a lot in a small package but likely to be more appreciated by those who like the show to begin with than those watching just because they can’t find anything better on TV. And at two-percent of the budget and without the benefit of Liam Neeson, Michael Douglas’s girlfriend or a multimillion dollar FX budget, “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” manages to be a much better presentation then the actual “Haunting” movie and unlike the movie, this one comes free. More importantly it comes a lot closer to the true essence of what horror is and the psychology behind it. Horror is the dark side of imagination and imagination is the foundation of Star Trek. Haunting purges that dark side and the monster, leaving both Neelix and the crew, to appreciate the monster for what it truly is, a fascinating, amazing alien-being who is the product of human (or inhuman?) imagination.

Enjoy.

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