Archive for March, 2009

I Watched the Watchmen (Notes on Rorschach)

Posted in Cinema with tags , on March 30, 2009 by davehurwitz

My chiropractor likes to chat while he is manipulating my spine.  Whether he does this out of a natural garrulousness or to distract me from the wrenching and popping sensations I have never been quite sure.  Usually, he tells jokes.  Most recently, however, he mentioned that he had seen the Watchmen movie.  Having never read the graphic novel, he found the story overly

Haley as Rorschach

Haley as Rorschach

long and drawn out.  To me, coming from the opposite perspective, certain parts of the film (mostly notably the section dealing with Rorschach’s origin) seemed needlessly truncated.  Without my having even brought him up, my chiropractor singled out Jackie Earle Haley (who he remembered as a child star) as exceptional.  While Haley’s Rorschach was as good as I had hoped it would be, certain aspects of his performance, and the directorial decisions behind it, gave me pause.

Rorschach as drawn is a largely emotionless figure.  His voice is described as a creepy monotone.  Even during the psychiatric interview sections, his unmasked face remains unchanging and expressionless.  While Moore’s Rorschach is capable of humor (see his prison confrontation with Big Figure, reproduced almost exactly in the film) and even a certain lyricism, his face and his body language remain void of affect for much of the graphic novel.  This makes his rare displays of fury and anguish, at his unmasking and at his death, even more disturbing.

Moore's Rorschach

Moore’s Rorschach

Haley’s Rorschach is not emotionless.  There is a scene in which he holds his masked face in his hands, despairing over Veidt’s betrayal, something Moore’s character would never do.  In fact, Haley’s whole performance conveys a sense of barely suppressed emotion.  His Rorschach shrugs and twitches.  He fidgets and paces the floor.  When Haley’s Rorschach hacks child molester Gerald Grice to death with the meat cleaver–rather than simply leaving him to burn, as in the original–the moment owes more to Jim Thompson or Andrew Vachss than it does to Alan Moore.  Far from being a cipher, this Rorschach is simply a man whose eyes have been forcibly opened to the brutality and meaninglessness of existence.  He’s a man with impossible standards confronting an imperfect world.  A noir hero, in other words.  While this interpretation can be read into the graphic novel, it is not, in my opinion at least, the complete picture.

It’s also worth remembering that Moore’s Rorschach is not an entirely original creation.  All of the characters in Watchmen are loosely based on the heroes of Charlton Comics, which had been acquired by DC in 1983.  More specifically, Rorschach is based on The Question, a faceless vigilante created in 1967 by legendary comics artist Steve Ditko.  While I am not directly familiar

Ditko's The Question

Ditko’s The Question

with Charlton’s Question, I was a big fan of the DC reboot, which ran for thirty-six issues between 1987 and 1990.  Drawn by Denys Cowan and scripted by Dennis O’Neil, the series (along with the concurrent Green Arrow reboot) became a soap box for the writer’s twin obsessions, Zen mysticism and martial practice as a path to enlightenment.  O’Neil’s Question fights to master himself as well as to defeat evil.  In truth, I owe Dennis O’Neil a lot.  My interest in archery, my introduction to the works of Eugen Herrigel, my years of tai chi.  All these things began with The Question.

Like The Question, Rorschach’s mask has no human features.  When we look at them, we see ourselves more than we see what lies behind.  Jackie Earle Haley and director Zach Snyder saw a fiercely moral man at war with an amoral world.  Dennis O’Neil saw man in search of himself.  Alan Moore saw nothing more or less than a man who had stared evil in the face too hard and too long.  What do you see?  What kind of man are you?  That is the real question.  And no one knows the answer but you.

Dave Hurwitz

The Question reboot

The Question reboot

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Supernatural’s New War in Heaven

Posted in Rotten with tags on March 22, 2009 by davehurwitz
The Angel Castiel

The Angel Castiel

I always like to see angels duking it out. In the latest episode of Supernatural (Head of a Pin), the secret is revealed and angels are killing angels. It’s nice to see angels portrayed as badasses once again. Also, that they themselves are not infallible.

The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal

If you haven’t followed the series, you should. I could praise the show, but it’s better just to have you watch it. In this season (season 4), the plot arc centers around breaking the 66 seals and thus release Lucifer. This isn’t a new plotline. Check out The Seventh Seal (with Demi Moore).

Having angels turn to the dark side also isn’t new. The 1995 film, The Prophecy, has Christopher Walken as the angel Gabriel. He journeys to Earth to find a human soul that can end the war in heaven.

In Supernatural, it turns out that the angels, led by Uriel, one of the four archangels, wants to release Lucifer. It’s not to stop a war in heaven, but rather to start one. Uriel and others consider God to be an absentee landlord. (Check the quote from The Devil’s Advocate). Uriel wants Lucifer to lead the pack again.

Some interesting aspects in the series is how to kill an angel. The television series has us believe that only an angel can kill an angel. Uriel brandishes “The Sword of Lucicer”. This is most likely a made up weapon. The only sword I’ve heard of mentioned is the sword of St. Michael.

When I put in a search on “how to kill an angel” on interesting post floated to the top. It mentioned that angels were mortal on Earth (which makes sense). This post claimed that a perfume was the only thing that could harm an angel:

The Egyptians had a perfume called qeres that was used during mummification to provide the first ‘sweet breathe’ of the afterlife. Qeres is extremely rare substance because its recipe has been lost, but small amounts still exist. this perfume is a lethal poison to an angel (fallen or otherwise), and if poured over, say, the blade of a knife, could in fact terminate an angel.

Most of this is probably hokum, but it sounds interesting. Whether Supernatural will really tackle the “End of the World” remains to be seen. More so, where would the series go after this? How can you top Armageddon?

Chris Kalidor

Ben Templesmith is right. Werewolves are lame.

Posted in Rotten with tags , on March 15, 2009 by davehurwitz
American Werewolf in London

American Werewolf in London

Of all the classic monsters, none get such shabby treatment as the werewolf.  A large part of the problem is inherent in werewolf makeup and effects.  Even the most cutting edge CGI can’t transform a 180 pound biped into a four-legged critter with half the body mass.  It’s just not going to look right.  (Rick Baker came closest, without the aid of computers, in American Werewolf in London, but his wolf was huge.)  Most movies and TV shows opt for some version of the hairy-guy-with-a-dog-head werewolf.  The results are, usually, less than overwhelming.

Another problem is plot.  The typical formula, as laid down in Universal’s Wolfman, is a romantic tragedy.  Nice guy saves girl from bloodthirsty monster, getting bitten in the process.  Nice guy falls in love with girl, but turns into bloodthirsty monster.  Girl kills bloodthirsty monster, which then transforms into the corpse of nice guy.  Curtain.  Everybody whip out your handkerchiefs.  Werewolf stories that avoid this formula often devolve into mindless chase-and-chew slashers or juvenile fantasies of revenge and sexual conquest.  This is just as true for books as it is for movies.  Thomas Tessier’s The Nightwalker is a notable example of the werewolf as libertine.

Unlike the other big monsters, werewolves lack a familiar literary history. Most everyone knows that our modern vampire is derived from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Some horror readers are even aware that mummy stories also arrived during the Victorian period, spurred by the archeological discoveries of Howard Carter and others.  In fact, when Richard Marsh’s tale of Egyptological terror The Beetle debuted alongside Dracula in 1897, it outsold Stoker’s work by a considerable margin.  Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Ring of Thoth” bears a strong resemblance to Universal’s The Mummy and its many sequels.  (“Lot No. 249” is another excellent mummy story by Doyle.)  While werewolf stories go back just as far, classics like Frederick Marryat’s “The While Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” and Clemence Houseman’s “The Were-Wolf” are all but forgotten by contemporary horror junkies.  For the werewolf, there simply is no broad cultural template, no ready archetype for Hollywood to borrow.

The Wolfman as a romantic tragedy

The Wolfman as a romantic tragedy

So, when Ben Templesmith made the title comment, he was right.  Werewolves are lame.  They have been hobbled by bad special effects and a lack of literary role models.  Ironically, Templesmith makes this comment in the introduction to his latest graphic novel, Welcome to Hoxford, the tale of deeply psychotic convict transferred to a prison full of werewolves.  (It’s been

Welcome to Hoxwood

Welcome to Hoxford

done before.  See the opening chapters of Nancy A. Collins’ Wild Blood.)  How is Hoxford?  Templesmith’s werewolves look awesome.  His pen and ink critters remind me of hairy mantids crossed with Giger aliens.  No guy-with-a-dog-head here.  The plot?  Let’s just say that the best scene in the book, one which plays on whole rodent/inmate relationship from King’s Green Mile, has no werewolves in it.

Regardless, Hollywood has already been bitten.  Expect the Hoxford movie to hit theaters in a year or two.  Universal’s Wolfman reboot will arrive first, however.  Be sure to bring your hankie.

Dave Hurwitz

Venice Skeleton is Forensic Evidence of Vampire

Posted in Rotten with tags on March 10, 2009 by davehurwitz
Female vampire with a brick in its mouth

Female vampire with a brick in its mouth

Okay, so vampire don’t really exist, right? I mean, we’ve never found a real vampire. Well, now we might have real evidence.

Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy exhumed a skeleton from a grave in Venice that bears the hallmarks of a true vampire. He found the remains of a woman with a small brick in her mouth. He certainly wasn’t on the look out for vampires. Instead, Borrini had been excavating mass graves of plague victims on Lazzaretto Nuovo Island in Venice.

The island is believed to be the world’s first lazaret—a quarantine colony intended to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The lazaret was opened during the plague outbreaks that decimated Venice, as well as much of Europe, throughout the 15th and 16th centuries A.D.

Many people believed the plague was spread by vampires which, rather than suck blood, spread disease by chewing on their shrouds after dying. Grave-diggers put bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires to stop them doing this, Borrini says.

This wasn’t the only method of stopping vampires from rising. The association of Death and the scythe ultimately derived from vampire lore. Since the body would rise after death, people in the Balkans would bury their dead with scythes across the throat. This way, when the vampire rose, it would cut it’s own head off.

Plague burial in

Plague burial on Lazzaretto Nuovo Island

Later, when these graves were exhumed, the corpse was found with a scythe next to it. Ergo, the image of death holding a scythe.

Another way to stop a vampire was to drape a net with a multitude of knots. It seemed that vampires were obsessive compulsive, and would have to count all the knots. Another method was to scatter rice, forcing the creature to count all the grains. For a good example of this phenomena, check out the X-Files episode “Bad Blood” from season five. Here, Mulder tosses sunflower seeds, forcing the would be vampire to count them all.

Many of the beliefs in vampires were spawned by a misunderstanding of how bodies decomposed. Fingernails and hair will continue to grow. Yet when this corpse was dug up, it seemed to be still alive. Also, blood would sometimes be expelled from the mouth, causing the shroud to sink inward and tear.

Borrini, who presented his findings at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Denver, Colorado, last week, claims this might be the first such vampire to have been forensically examined.

However, Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University in Kansas says he has found similar skeletons in Poland and that while Borrini’s finding is exciting, “claiming it as the first vampire is a little ridiculous”.

Borrini says his study details the earliest grave to show archaeological “exorcism evidence against vampires”.

Chris Kalidor

Alan Moore Curses Watchmen Movie

Posted in Cinema, Random Weirdness with tags , on March 1, 2009 by davehurwitz
Watchmen Graphic Novel

Watchmen Graphic Novel

I caught a student reading Watchmen at the back of my class.  Don’t worry, I didn’t bust him for it.  After all, it is an English class, and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, even if they choose to do so while I’m trying to explain sentence fragments.  I used to do the same thing myself in high school.  (I may even have done it with Watchmen.)  I just wasn’t smart enough to hide in the back of the room.  Whether because of my poor eyesight or my extreme nerdiness, I always sat right up front, in plain view of my teachers.  Luckily, I’ve always been capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time.  I remember astounding my Spanish teacher, a retired Colombian bodybuilder who was clearly not a man to be fucked with, by answering his rather pointed questions in passable Español, my head still firmly buried in a John Varley novel.  But I digress.

I talked a bit with my student during the break, eyeing his shiny new edition with the slick paper and restored colors.  A friend of his, presumably a comix geek, had insisted that he read the original before seeing movie.

I too am excited about the upcoming Watchmen movie in large part because director Zach Snyder (who also brought Frank Miller’s 300 to the screen) has promised as faithful an adaptation as the 150-minute running time allows.  There are also a couple of genius bits of casting.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan (John Winchester on TV’s Supernatural) has already demonstrated that he can dredge up the tortured cynicism necessary to play The Comedian.  And anyone who has seen Jackie Earle Haley as a paroled sex offender in Little Children (a film recommended by no less an authority than Stephen King) cannot doubt his ability to portray the fascist vigilante Rorschach.  His line reading in the trailer alone is enough to give me chills.

The Watchmen Cast

The Watchmen Cast

The only thing marring my anticipation is the sadly predicable behavior of the notoriously misanthropic Alan Moore, the snake-worshiping Englishmen who wrote and co-created Watchmen along with artist Dave Gibbons.  Every time I read an interview with Moore (usually in the back pages of Jess Nevins’ annotations to Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) he cannot refrain from slagging Hollywood moviemakers, the American comix industry, and (by implication) anyone who enjoys their products.  Granted, Moore does have legitimate grievances against certain people and publishers here in the U.S., but his tedious ire never seems to wane.  Moore has refused to have anything to do with the Watchmen movie, even to the point of turning his residuals over to Gibbons, who has been on set with Snyder as a consultant.  Laughing about the film’s legal troubles in a recent interview with L.A. Times blogger-in-residence, Geoff Boucher, Moore jokingly claimed to have cursed the movie with his wizard powers.  I find his childish attitude disappointing, especially as both Snyder and Gibbons are trying to stay true to the spirit of the original.

Regardless, I took my boys to ComicKaze the other day.  (We were seeking Ben Templesmith’s Doctor Who one-shot, The Whispering Gallery.)  I saw the Watchmen action figures, and had to fight off the almost irresistible urge to open several packages and twist a bunch of Ozymandius figures into contorted poses.  A pile of Watchmen reissues sat on a table like a load of colorful bricks.  I remembered the last time I saw stack like that, in a cramped comic shop on El Cajon Boulevard, in 1987.  I still have my first edition compilation.  It sits on my shelf even now, battered and faded, alongside Moore’s recent work.  I’ve carried it from place to place since before my boys were born, before I got married, before I graduated high school or learned to drive.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read it over all those years.  Yes, I will see the Watchmen movie.  But like it or hate it, it will not diminish my admiration for the graphic novel.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore

And then there’s my student.  If it weren’t for the upcoming film, he might never have read Watchmen at all.  Maybe Alan Moore should bear that in mind.

Dave Hurwitz

Strap on your cardboard party hat and get ready for cupcakes.  The Weekly Rot is officially one year old.  So take a swing at the Cthulhu piñata.  Pin the butcher knife on Janet Leigh.  Try the punch.  I’m pretty sure the eyeballs in there are rubber.  If you’re feeling nostalgic, take a stroll through the archives, and check out some of our early posts.  Just try not to wake Mad Mary.