Friday, January 12, 2007

The House Between: Teaser Is Up!

Hey readers!

The (very brief...) teaser trailer for The House Between is now up on YouTube, and playing right here on the blog.

This is a first look at the characters, sounds and imagery of my independently produced, seven-episode sci-fi series, and more clips will be online soon, leading up to the premiere of the first episode, "Arrived," in mid-February.

Hope you like it...

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 53: Lakeside's Intercept (1978)

Now here's a flashback from my misspent youth. I guess it was the Christmas of 1978 or 1979 when I ripped into a wrapped package to discover this great "electronic" game from a company called Lakeside(Leisure Dynamics, Inc., No. 9005). It was a gift from my folks.

It's called Intercept, "the electronic search and destroy game," and the box front trumpets that it comes with "the sounds and lights of fighter attack." Yep, Intercept is a Cold War era game that allows you to "BE THE ATTACK PILOT" or "BE THE DEFENSE COMMANDER." That means you can play either side in the nuclear armageddon with the Soviet Union, I guess...

Anyway, as the stalwart attack pilot, you are tested in this way (according to the box rear...): "Can you sneak past your opponent's surface-to-air missile sites and attack his Airfield? Manuever secretly across the tracking grid."

As the Defense Commander, you are tasked in this fashion: "Can you track down and destroy the Attack Jet? Use your logic to pin-point his position. Fire your rockets to score a direct hit."

The coolest piece on the board is a crimson "INTERCEPTOR DEFENSE COMMAND." Or as the box describes it: "This Special Aircraft, when placed on Target, ELECTRONICALLY locks on to the Attack Jet. It will program your rocket Fire and score a direct hit as the Attack Jet flares up on the tracking grid."

Ah, the days before video games, huh? Other pieces in the Intercept "Search and Destroy" Game include, "S.A.M Defense Sites," and "SIGHTING INDICATORS." As the Jet fighter, you control your fighter from an ATTACK COMMAND CENTER with a red knob that is the "ATTACK CONTROL." Midway down the board is a red "ATTACK ROCKET FIRE BUTTON."

You are entreated to "LISTEN TO THE SOUNDS" of "RADAR WARNING SIGNAL, "THE LAUNCH OF AIR MISSILES," and "THE SIGNAL OF A DIRECT HIT" in Intercept, a "self-contained portable electronic game." It takes one 9 volt transistor battery, and is a heck of a lot of fun. The one I have actually works now, which is doubly cool. Can't wait to show it to Joel...

Anyway, it's all very cool, especially from a disco decade kid's point of view, and this is one electronic game that I recall having fun with for hours when I was nine. Back in the year of the original Battlestar Galactica (1978) and the Atari-2600, this baby was absolutely high tech.

Did anyone else out there own of these too?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

McFarland January 07 Titles

Here's this month's list of film/tv/performing arts books from publisher McFarland, located in Jefferson, N.C.! If there's any media studies reader out there who's a Joss Whedon fan (or who wants to get all the skinny on his work so as to mount a studied assault against his pervasive influence..), there's a new book out this month on Buffy's controversial creator. I have a copy here in my office, and I plan to read it as soon as I get minute. I guess everyone knows where I stand: I love the guy's work, particularly Buffy and Firefly.

The Presidents on Film
With the prominence of the U.S. president and the presidency, the executive office and its occupant have naturally found their way into numerous cinematic expressions. Since 1903, presidents have been featured in no less than 407 commercial films. Ranging from respectful, biographical presentations to comic caricatures, the ways in which presidents are depicted on film reflects a great deal about contemporary perception of the office.This volume examines how filmmakers and their public have viewed the presidents and the presidency over the past 100 years. The book presents an all-inclusive list of commercial theatrical films that include an actual American president as a character, excluding documentaries, television productions and fictional characters. At times these roles are minor while in other instances they form one of the main characters of the film. In either case, however, an analysis of these depictions reveals a great deal about the president—and the filmmaker. The main body of the work is devoted to an examination, arranged in chronological order, of each of the 42 men who have served as president. A brief summary of each administration is provided along with a commentary on the overall nature of films in which the featured president appeared. Each relevant film is then discussed with the credits, plot summary, description of the presidential appearance and, when possible, an assessment of the presidential portrayal included. Photographs from notable films are also provided

The entertainment industry is all too much a man’s world, with Hollywood at its macho center. Thelma & Louise made film history with a female screenwriter, two female leads and a controversial, female-empowered storyline. The film is well worth studying for its impact on Hollywood and, in a broader sense, its reflection of women’s role in society.This book examines the cultural impact of Thelma & Louise, not only upon its release in 1991 but throughout the nearly fifteen years since. The book begins with a look at the role of women in media and the underrepresentation of women in the film industry, on and off screen. Next comes a thorough examination of Thelma & Louise’s public reception: the controversy it generated, the reviews it received, and the many ways it is referenced in popular culture. Case studies from newspapers across the United States, focusing on reviews and op-ed pieces in The Salt Lake Tribune, The Washington Post, The Boston Herald, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution and others, show how the film’s reception differed from region to region. The final chapter provides current female employment statistics for the film industry and offers insight into the present role of women in film.

On June 29, 1908, U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte ordered the creation of a special force within the Department of Justice. Consisting of 28 agents and eight former Treasury Department investigators, it was designed to stop interstate crimes yet had no power to arrest perpetrators or carry firearms. Named the Bureau of Investigation, the agency was soon bogged down with its own inherent problems, becoming an object of corruption and contempt—until May 19, 1924. On that date, President Calvin Coolidge appointed J. Edgar Hoover to replace the corrupt director. Hard-working with a no-nonsense attitude, Hoover immediately set about reorganizing the bureau, setting a standard that he expected his agents to follow. Hoover, impressed by Hollywood’s manner of maintaining an image and manipulating the media, began to use some of these tricks to clean up his agency’s image. Thanks in part to his efforts, movies of the 1930s shifted from glorifying outlaws and gangsters to glorifying lawmakers—and who better to play that role than Hoover’s new, improved FBI?From crime-busting heroes to enemies of free speech, this volume examines the evolution of Hollywood’s portrait of the FBI over the last 75 years. The book looks in-depth at how Hollywood’s creative rewriting of history enhanced the FBI’s reputation and discusses the historical events that shaped the bureau off-screen, including the various figures who tell the real FBI story—the gangsters, the politicians, the journalists, the communists. The main body of the work examines the filmmakers, actors, technicians, writers and producers who were responsible for FBI films, following the FBI from the birth of a cultural icon in the 1930s, through the spy-busting war years and the threat of the Red Menace, and, finally, to death of Hoover and the scandals of the 1960s. Studio correspondence and once confidential FBI memos are also included.
This book is a critical encyclopedia of silent European films currently available on DVD, laser disc, and VHS. It provides concise and accurate summaries of the films, evaluates the quality of the prints, discusses the changing reputations of both films and filmmakers, and considers how the techniques developed during the silent period continue to influence filmmaking today.The book cites contemporary and recent criticism of the films and includes an extensive bibliography as well as a list of films by director. Numerous photos are also included.

This study examines the major works of contemporary American television and film screenwriter Joss Whedon. The authors argue that these works are part of an existentialist tradition that stretches back from the French atheistic existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, through the Danish Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard, to the Russian novelist and existentialist Fyodor Dostoevsky. Whedon and Dostoevsky, for example, seem preoccupied with the problem of evil and human freedom. Both argue that in each and every one of us “a demon lies hidden.” Whedon personifies these demons and has them wandering about and causing havoc. Dostoevsky treats the subject only slightly more seriously.Chapters cover such topics as Russian existentialism and vampire slayage; moral choices; ethics; Faith and bad faith; constructing reality through existential choice; some limitations of science and technology; love and self-sacrifice; love, witchcraft, and vengeance; soul mates and moral responsibility; love and moral choice; forms of freedom; and Whedon as moral philosopher.

MOVIE REVIEW: Stay Alive (2006)

As Stay Alive (the director's cut...) explains through some heavy-handed exposition, there have been numerous academic studies confirming that the longer you play a video game, the more you perceive the "game world" as reality. This makes sense to me. Every year, Kathryn and I buy at least one horror-survival video game to enjoy together, and two years ago it was Resident Evil 4 (the year before, Eternal Darkness...). I wholeheartedly recommend RE4. It's immersive, addictive and downright scary. Anyway, we would play the game for sometimes ten hours at a stretch, and when we stopped for the necessity of sleep, I would close my eyes and still see the game in my mind's eye. My "perceptive reality" as Stay Alive terms it, had been altered.

So I guess it was only a matter of time, given experiences like this (which I assume are common enough for gamers...), that Hollywood decided to produce a movie about an evil video game wherein if you die in the game arena, you die in the same way in "real life." That concept of "perceptive reality" is the bailiwick of Stay Alive, yet the film is far less inventive and interesting than it should be, because this material plays out as a fairly hackneyed concept.

Consider The Ring. You watch the Samara's videotape and seven days later you die.

Or A Nightmare on Elm Street. You fall asleep and Freddy hunts you in your dreams. If you die in your dreams, you're also dead in reality.

So, though Stay Alive has adopted a relatively fresh arena for horror, a new brand of "rubber reality" (a horror concept that came into its own in the late 1980s), the film doesn't really tread any revolutionary ground. Which makes it a disappointment.

Not a fiasco like Feast, but a disappointment nonetheless. This is a mediocre film, saddled with cardboard teen characters and the most pedestrian of performances. The script is dull, and even the kill set-pieces aren't particularly inventive or scary. In fact, I'd say that the initial death sequence (of a character named Loomis Crowley...) is actually the most frightening in the film. Oh wait, not his actual death, but his video game death. Stay Alive cannily utilizes the first person shooter perspective inside the video game world to reveal this character's entrapment. He turns from one side to another, dashes from one chamber to another (in a haunted mansion...) and is attacked from all sides by monstrous little moppets. This is strangely terrifying, even as rendered here, as a video game.

Nothing else lives up to that moment, and I wish that Stay Alive actually featured more moments "inside" the video game; and fewer in the "real world" of its stock teen characters.

A synopsis: Stay Alive is the tale of a guy named Hutch (Jon Foster), who begins to investigate the death of his friend Loomis after Crowley dies in real life in precisely the same way as he died in the new video game he was beta testing, called Stay Alive. When Hutch's boss also dies precisely as he did in the video game, Hutch becomes convinced that the game is haunted. With his squad of oddly monikered young adult buddies (Swink, Phin, October and Abigail...) he ventures into the game world to solve the mystery. What he finds in this arena of "horror survival" is that a boogeyman figure, Countess Bathory, is murdering her victims and bathing in their blood (in a weird ritual to remain eternally young and beautiful.). One by one, the gamers die, sometimes even before their avatars in the game world expire, and the key to stopping the Scarlet Countess rests in finding her real life body, and burning her evil blood.

Surprisingly, Stay Alive does get a few things right. For instance, I love the opening shot of the film, in which the viewer literally descend into the game world, swooping from the sky down into a creepy Antebellum Mansion. This impressive shot seems indicative to me of the director's willingness to meld video and cinema in a way heretofore not seen. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn't really follow through with that promise. The opening scene, with an avatar exploring the haunted mansion - as I wrote above - , is far creepier than it has any right to be, and proves - to skeptics like me -that yes, Virginia, video games can be as scary as movies. And, as compelling to watch from the percipient or spectator point of view. I found this material riveting, but from there, it was straight downhill.

Another nice moment: Late in the film, Phineas has been run over by Countess Bathory's horses and carriage, and the camera adopts a high angle at the crime scene (road side). The film then shifts into fast motion, but leaves the shot unbroken, as first responders arrive. We watch in fast motion as fire engines, an ambulance, police cruisers and the like pull up and perform their clean-up rituals. I'm not 100% sure why, but this set-up reminds me of a video game visualization too. The action is over, we're at a distance (resting, as it were, before we hit reset...) and all the scene lacks are the words "GAME OVER" superimposed over the first responders. For whatever reason, and this may be entirely subjective, this set-up seemed to reinforce the video game motif of Stay Alive. At least for me.

Making no bones about it, however, it's fair to say that other than a few flourishes like these, Stay Alive just isn't very good. Primarily, I think, because it wants to appeal to younger audiences. It's not as daring or as spiky or as kinky as it could and should be. Among the actors, Frankie Muniz is particularly annoying as Swink, and the film ends with the predictable destruction of Bathory (kind of...), before the requisite sting-in-the-tail/tale, but no mention is made of the fact that local authorities are still hunting Hutch and his friends for murder. Don't you hate it when movies end this way? Oh, the villain is dead, so let's just roll credits! If that's the intent of Stay Alive, then the police subplot is a waste of time.

Despite the thoroughly pedestrian, safe nature of Stay Alive, I can't find it in my heart to actually despise the film. In fact, watching it filled me with a sense of nostalgia. This is precisely the kind of "disposable" horror film I enjoyed and grew up with in the late 1980s. It plays very much like a later Elm Street or Hellraiser film: a series of gruesome kill set-pieces and not much more. All polished with that rubber reality veneer. And yet, I enjoy this kind of film then and now, and find value in it too. Especially for teenagers (the intended audience for Stay Alive, I guess, given the PG-13 rating). I mean, this is a trip back to the paranoid world of Crystal Lake, Haddonfield or Elm Street, wherein teens must survive the gauntlet, proving clever enough to solve a mystery and stay alive. I know that moral critics of the horror film have objection to films like this, but I see them as enormously cathartic...and positive influences.

In films like Stay Alive, a fifteen year old sees that the way to survive a trauma is with friends at your side, and by being smart and resourceful. What's not to love? Well, here, the answer to that interrogative is: Frankie Muniz.

Also, in a sign of our deadpan, grim times, Stay Alive lacks the quality that made the Elm Street sequels bearable: a sense of irony. There's very little humor in Stay Alive, and no iconic boogeyman to crack wise or serve as ringmaster. Truthfully, I'm on the fence whether that's a good adjustment to the formula or a mistake, so I'll just say this: Bathory is a bit of a cipher here. She doesn't have the personality of a Pinhead or a Freddy, nor does she provoke total fear (like Michael Myers in his original incarnation). This means that Stay Alive, as a potential franchise, just doesn't take things to the next level. So, instead of a thumbs up or thumbs down, I'll just give the film an Atari's thumb; which means - precisely - that I enjoyed watching Stay Alive for a while, but the experience was not without some pain either.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Update to Retro Toy Flashback # 21: 2006 Star Trek Hallmark Ornaments

I don't know if you Star Trek fans out there got to see (or purchase...) these collectibles, but Hallmark released two new ornaments in 2006 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the original series. My mother-in-law up in Richmond (who started off my collection of Trek ornaments in 1992...) bought them both for me, and I can testify...they're both gorgeous. Beautifully crafted.

First, there's the classic series U.S.S. Enterprise. The box reads: "A flagship of Starfleet, USS Enterprise NCC-1701 embarked on its historic five year mission in 2264. Commanded by Captain James T. Kirk, the STARSHIP ENTERPRISE transported us to the final frontier for unparalleled adventure."

Then, the second ornament is "The Transporter Chamber." The box on this one reads "...Captain Kirk, Science Officer Spock and Chief Engineer Scott enter the transporter chamber. The crewmembers are then converted into a beam of energy and reassembled in another location to begin their mission. No Starfleet vessel leaves spacedock without one."

I hope you collectors out there kept your eyes open for these. I was surprised when I opened the package. I didn't realize there were new ornaments released for Christmas '06, and was thrilled to see that both items were from the Original Series...still (and always...) my favorite Trek.

Catnap: Who's the Baby?

Well, Ezri clearly thinks that she's the baby in this house. We came down to the family room yesterday morning and were going to put our baby Joel in his "City of Domes" (that's what we call the Gizmo in the photos...), and we found that there were no vacancies.

Ezri had moved in. This is her house now. Watch out Joel, no trespassing!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Flash Gordon: The Series?

Hey, my buddy Fred sent me this interesting news tidbit from Geek Monthly:

Currently being developed by SciFi Channel under a cloak of secrecy is a new television series based on the classic comic book character created by Alex Raymond, Flash Gordon. Despite critical acclaim, SciFi’s stellar Battlestar Galactica re-imagination has had continued ratings erosion which network honchos believe may be attributable to the show’s dark tone.
It has been known for awhile that SciFi has been looking to develop “lighter” properties in the vein of their Stargate series, although it is expected that Flash Gordon will have a far more serious tone than the campy 1980 film starring Sam Jones, Melody Anderson, Timothy Dalton, Max Van Sydow and Topol.

Two thoughts on this:

1. A Flash Gordon series could be pretty impressive today, given digital technology and a *hopeful* fidelity to Alex Raymond's designs. Wonder if it will be set back during the era of America's War on Fascism, the original context. Oh, and hey, today show runners can do a season (or multi-season...) arc like the takedown of Ming the Merciless.

2. Battlestar Galactica is facing "continued ratings erosion"? Gee, who didn't see that one coming? The audience for the show has always been small, and though it has a vocal, militant fan base...I don't personally know a single long-time science fiction cinema/TV fan who actually likes (or watches...) the show. Sure, the mainstream critics drool all over it, and the re-imagination drew heavy curiosity viewing initially. But fads do fade. I chalk up the ratings slide to the fact that BSG eschews basically all sci-fi trappings to serve - as my friend Tony calls it - The West Wing in Space. That concept gets pretty tiresome pretty quickly...

Monday, January 08, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Silent Hill (2006)

This isn't what I was expecting...

That it is based on a popular video game is ultimately immaterial. For Silent Hill (2006) is one of the strangest, most gorgeously filmed, most visually dazzling horror movies I've seen in a long, long time. Taking into account the long and generally piss-poor history of "interactive" entertainment on film (Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, j'accuse.), I expected this film to be a brainless actioner. I was wrong.

Instead, director Christophe Gans has fashioned a difficult, unsettling masterpiece. He's not out for easy thrills. Indeed, he's taken his good sweet time fashioning this narrative (it runs a lugubrious two hours-and-five minutes), which is, perhaps, our first indicator it's not intended to be a cheap-skate knock-off of a popular game.

Nope, Gan has fashioned a film that I can only describe as a Homerian-style Stygian odyssey. The aura is literary and metaphysical...not popcorn philosophy and New Age treacle. In simple terms, Silent Hill is an Orpheus story about a terrified, traumatized mother, Rose (Pitch Black's Radha Mitchell) who visits a ghost town in West Virginia in hopes of finding out what demons (literally...) vex her vaguely-autistic daughter, Sharon.

To save Sharon, Rose descends into a Tartarus-like underworld where she encounters witches, zombies, ghoulish soldiers dressed as miners, and an assortment of creepy-crawlies that would make anyone's skin crawl. Interestingly, these ghoulish creations (and the environs around them in the town...) seem to be an externalization of a terrible, collective sin. Think of The Cell...only a hell of a lot better.

Honestly, I don't know that I've ever seen a sustained descent into Hell put to celluloid so skillfully and in such unsettling, dedicated fashion. I'm not usually a fan of CGI in horror because it tends to take me out of the moment. I like my horror organic, not mechanical, and I don't think computers really understand "flesh" (just ask Brundlefly...), but digital technology works in spades here, particularly in one of the final images: that of Rose being forced to run a gauntlet of faceless, lurching nurses, all armed with scalpels...swinging at her. There's something mythological and primordial about these macabre juggernauts, just waiting for the right moment to strike.

There is only very minimal dialogue in Silent Hill. What dialogue exists seems to carry us in long, winding, half-conscious circles. Long stretches go by wherein the audience is in total silence with the main characters, and thus Silent Hill remembers that film is a visual art form first and foremost. Perhaps in a nod to the video game arena, the viewer spends much time exploring basements, hotels, and a school named Midwich (in a nod to Village of the Damned's source material, The Midwich Cuckoos).

Accordingly - given this paucity of words - the movie is laden with gorgeous, unforgettable imagery. You can detect almost literally from the first shots that Gan has attempted to vet his story with pictures first and foremost. There's an idyllic opening after the credits, for instance. The scene is set under a tree - in a wide open field - and it is an effective counterpoint to the nightmarish imagery of the prologue. The calm after and preceding storms, as it were.

Shortly thereafter, when in search of Silent Hill, the so-called "Tainted Town," Gan's camera adopts an extreme high angle as Rose's jeep navigates a winding road by pitch black night. The illumination from her headlights is the only source of light for dozens of miles and the road is bracketed by foreboding, ominous woods on both sides. Again, the impression is clearly of a descent into the underworld. The shot perfectly expresses this notion.

Likewise, late in the film's action, an elevator takes a one way trip down to the bowels of the Lake of Fire, and the shot is impressively staged and subconsciously adroit. It couldn't have been accomplished without CGI, at least not on this scale...and it's stunning. Again, this is no roller coaster ride (like the CGI-laden Star Wars prequels, which I enjoy...), but rather a contemplative, moody piece that marshals CG to send an audience straight to Hell. It's worth the trip, actually.

In horror movies, we've got Hellbound. In literature we've got Dante. In myth, we've got Orpheus. These are all examples of a hero's "journey" into the realm of Hades, and Silent Hill is - in visual terms - a similar tour of Hell. The town itself alternates between two disparate realities. There is the town as it exists after the fire (which occurred thirty years ago, in November 1974) and where ashes continually fall from the sky like snowflakes (a beautiful and haunting image). And then there's the "dark" interval, when a fire siren sounds ominously, and the skies turn black. It is in this world that the monsters come out, a fearsome personification of death: a gaggle of crispy critters and the like. They move all herky-jerky and fast (like The Ring), but they are still oddly terrifying, these phantasms from a hell dimension.

Speaking of The Ring, there is a similar - and simple - core story at the crux of Silent Hill. A little girl has been wronged by a community of superstitious zealots, and her vengeance is strong that destroys a town and its populace. Yet, Silent Hill takes this story in a different direction than one might expect. The Ring concerned the ability of the mass media (through VHS, for instance...) to transmit horror simultaneously to millions; whereas Silent Hill is implicitly about the psychological conflict that arises in a child who has been abused by adults she trusted.

Alessa Gillespie is the girl's name, and she was burned as a witch in the town of Silent hill all those years ago. She survived after a fashion, but splintered her psyche. She sent her "good" half or personality to Rose as an adopted daughter, Sharon. The demon side, Alessa, stayed behind in Silent Hill hell to torment her abusers. This concept of "doubling" keeps arising in the film. It's the leitmotif, if you will. There's the dual nature - the twin realities - of Silent Hill itself (light and dark intervals), and there are two contrasting mother figures, one strong and dedicated (Rose) and one weak and confused (Alessa's mother, Dahlia). But more important is the manner in which this doubling reflects the experiences of a so-called abused child.

Unlike The Ring, Silent Hill clearly views Alessa/Sharon in terms of being both the story's hero and villain; protagonist and antagonist, the victim and the victimizer. According to my wife, Kathryn (a psychotherapist), this is indeed the self-same way many abuse victims view themselves. They feel guilty; like there was cause for the abuse; but also angry - because the abuse was wrong. They feel simultaneously that they deserved it and that they didn't deserve it. Even the title of the film, Silent Hill, plays into this element of the narrative, since many abuse victims suffer their guilt in "silence," in a disassociated sense of reality. One, like the light interval, is a place where - on the surface - everything appears okay. The other, like the dark interval, is that place where the ghosts of abuses from the past take form.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the cycle of abuse was caused, we learn in Silent Hill, by religious fundamentalism. The hierarchical structure of fundamentalism is such that authority can't be questioned. Or at least not easily. And yet absolute power corrupts absolutely, as we've seen with Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and other "moral" religious leaders. They've all had deep character flaws that were only uncovered after a long, long time in "silence" and secret. The slavish devotion to authority, the non-questioning (take it on faith...) atmosphere of fundamentalism also allows predators to act on the sheep - children and women - in secret.

In a sense, that's the central and overriding metaphor of Silent Hill. Alessa was destroyed as a "witch" by the leader of a zealous, puritanical religious sect (led by Borg Queen Alice Krige...) in Silent Hill, and it is that leader and her followers who are viewed as the real monsters here, not Alessa and her hellish demons. Dueling Moms have become something of a cliche in the horror genre, ever since Aliens ("Get Away From Her, You Bitch!"), but this film is legitimately about a mom who would go to Hell and back to save her child. "Mother is God in a child's eyes," is a line of dialogue we hear a few times in the film, and it's interesting. Alessa - in her barbed-wire, fire-and-brimstone wrath, spares her mother, Dahlia. Even though she permitted the "abuse. Why? Because Mother is God in a child's eyes.

It's been a long time since I've seen a horror film so open to various schools of criticism. You can judge Silent Hill, I suppose, on how it translates the aesthetics of interactive entertainment (video games) to film. You can also gaze at it as the latest twist on a heroic, Orphean journey into the Underworld. You may care to delve deeply into the psychology of the film, which I submit concerns the abuse victim's "double vision" and feelings of disassociation. You can even study this horror in terms of archetypal female roles. We're long past the "final girl" phase here, and it is significant that every character in the film, from Rose and Sharon to Dahlia and Christabella (Krige) to Laurie Holden's cop, female. And that male authority, represented by Kim Coates and Sean Bean, is virtually impotent. Almost an afterthought.

Finally, however, what may qualify Silent Hill for greatness in the genre is a moody closing interlude, a coda that could be interpreted in half-a-dozen ways. It is an ambiguously configured moment of deep melancholy and ominous foreboding. A family reunion that should be joyous turns ambivalent...sour. Another emotional disconnect is forged; an indicator perhaps, that the cycle of abuse continues. That the darkness is not confined to Silent Hill, to that tainted town. The "double" layers of reality continue.

Someone pinch me, because I almost can't believe this movie exists. Silent Hill is a great horror movie. And it's rated R, not PG-13. Not because it is over-the-top gory (it isn't...), but because what lurks beneath the surface is so disturbing, so unsettling. I think this movie bombed at the box office and I can see why. It's no easy sell to the audience that enjoys The Fantastic Four. Instead, Silent Hill is a spectacular and worthy heir to such fare as Jacob's Ladder and Carnival of Souls...just with the very latest in special effects wizardry.

And it happens to be genius, a masterwork of cinematic art. It shows us what CGI can accomplish when coupled with the right story; the right intellect behind the camera.