Friday, November 20, 2009

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Home Sweet Home (1980)

"A little craziness never hurt anyone..."

- Dialogue from Home Sweet Home (1980)

In honor of the approaching holiday, today I'm looking back at a really terrible horror film that I first encountered while writing Horror Films of the 1980s (2007).

Conveniently, it's both Thanksgiving-themed and a turkey.

Advertised with the ad-line "The Bradleys won't be leaving home. Ever," Home Sweet Home (1981) is the not-so-riveting story of a deranged serial killer and his holiday rampage.

Said serial killer is portrayed by Body by Jake's (1988) gleeful Jake Steinfeld. The enthusiastic exercise guru -- also known for his music label, "Don't Quit Music" -- plays this muscular madman as a cackling, bulging-eyed freak. This looney killer has the tattoo "home sweet home" emblazoned on his fist, and was incarcerated for eight years over the bludgeoning death of his parents.

In one of the film's first scenes, this hyperactive, super-fit killer takes PCP by injecting it into his tongue, guns his car engine rowdily, and then runs over a little old lady crossing the street.

Lots of maniacal, silent-movie-style, villlainous cackling over that. Unfortunately, Jake has no moustache to twirl.

Meanwhile, at a Southern California ranch, the unconventional Bradley family is preparing for a holiday that may or may not be Thanksgiving. Let's see: there's a turkey. There's a celebratory meal. There's a family gathering. And there are guests. But no one mentions Turkey Day by name. The VHS box does it for us.

Anyway -- for some reason -- the obnoxious Bradley son, charmingly named "Mistake," is dressed as a mime for the occasion. He's a practical joke-playing mime, no less. And did I mention, Mistake also dabbles in the electric guitar?

Unfortunately, the mime is one of the last characters to die in Home Sweet Home, meaning the audience must endure Mistake's lame antics for a very long time before the movie arrives at his fateful, and wholly-deserved electrocution.

The holiday meal with the Bradley family promises to be an unusual one too, not just because Mistake is a mime and because an uninvited serial killer is on his way, but because one of the invitees "won't drink anything," since "she hates to go to the bathroom." WTF? You know, I don't particularly like going to the bathroom either. I think I'll stop drinking too. I didn't realize it was that simple...

And did I mention that some crack cops are on the case, investigating the murders and pursuing the body-builder killer? The classy cops gawk at one character's overripe breasts after stopping her for speeding, and share this colloquy:

"Did you see that chick with the big bazooms?"

Since Home Sweet Home is incompetently shot, written and acted, one might hope that the violence Jake ultimately inflicts on the Bradley family would at least prove entertaining. But it isn't (well, except for the death of the mime, to be fair...). One character dies when she falls over and cracks her head against a rock. Can you really blame Ole Jack for that? Another character gets his head crushed under the hood of a car.

Home Sweet Home exhibits the familiar flaw of the worst slasher films, meaning that the killer is always positioned right where he should be in order to kill the one character who happens to be left alone at any given moment. You might accept that level of expertise from a Michael Myers or a Jason...but by Jake Steinfeld? I just can't ascribe supernatural abilities to this guy. Enthusiasm, gung-ho inspiration, yes. Boogeyman

Mere words can't truly convey how irrevocably horrible this movie is. So Happy Thanksgiving, caveat emptor, and...gobble, gobble.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

TV REVIEW: V: "A Bright New Day"

If you've been keeping up with this blog, you know I'm not the world's most devout fan of the new ABC version of V.

However, last night's episode, "A Bright New Day," was aptly-named by my reckoning. It seemed like the first installment of the series that was at all promising. In other words...a distinct improvement.

I feel this way because some of my gripes about the new series were actually addressed. For instance, instead of merely hearing about the general reaction of Americans to the Visitors, in last night's segment we actually witnessed some of that reaction.

Early in "A Bright New Day," we got a lightning-quick montage of various confused people in the confession booth at St. Josephine's. "Are the Visitors demons or angels?" "Is everything we believe a lie?" "Can they heal my sister's cancer?"
They asked Father Jack. Again, this was a lightning-quick touch -- a token move, perhaps -- but it was nonetheless a start at constructing the larger global context that has largely been absent thus far.

We also met the wife of the U.S. Air Force pilot killed in the first episode, Mary Faulkner, and learned of her issues with the aliens. In the spirit of Diana, the tricky Anna co-opted this human leader and even (finally...) had a good scene (told in jump cuts...) during which she rehearsed the correct human emotions for dealing with grief. A very slippery lizard, this Anna.

"A Bright New Day" also afforded the series the first mention by name of the Visitor's Fifth Column, an important ingredient of the original series. And beyond that, we got more detailed glimpses of Visitor technology, Visitor written language...and Visitor's lady's underwear. These are all steps in the right direction and signs, I hope, that the show is making a much-needed course correction.

Most impressively, "A Bright New Day" featured at least two authentic, jaw-dropping surprises during the hour. I'm an old hand with genre TV, but I didn't see either of these shocks coming. Again, for perhaps the first time, I felt last night that V was actually making a concerted effort to entertain, rather than just kind of plodding around on automatic pilot.

My big concern with the series now is something that a clever reader brought to my attention last week. In the comments for the review of last week's episode, a reader named Pete noted "if the V traitor *really* wants to fight the V, why doesn't he just go on TV and expose himself as a reptile?"

As hard as I've tried to suspend disbelief since reading that comment...I just can't do it. This is the elephant (or reptile...) in the room.

The whole premise of V and a Visitor Fifth Column just crumbles when you consider this idea; that Ryan, the Fifth Columnist, could defeat the Visitors in one swift stroke by going on television and cutting open his human skin to reveal his scales before a live global audience. Last night, even Anna noted herself the importance of public opinion; and keeping public opinion in favor of the Visitors. Imagine how public opinion would swing against the aliens if Ryan went on TV and revealed to the world that the Visitors were a pack of liars? All the material in "A Bright New Day" about Ryan re-organizing the Fifth Column is a runaround; a time-waste., a cheat. If he wants to win in one fell swoop, Ryan would simply himself to the world.

Now two things. First, some people might say Ryan doesn't want his fiance to know he's a lizard. My answer: priorities, Ryan, priorities! How happy of a marriage can he hope to have if the Visitors are ruling the world? If their love is true, his girlfriend would forgive him his lizardly nature. Secondly, the series could get around this point simply by acknowledging it: by having a throwaway line from Ryan in which he says he can't reveal himself on TV because he's afraid of his girlfriend's reaction or something. It would still be stupid; but at least it would be acknowledged.

However, that's not the end of it. Here's my sinister, paranoid side coming out. There is one other way in which Ryan's unwillingness to reveal his lizard-nature makes narrative sense. What if the Fifth Column is not only anti-Visitor, but also anti-human? What if Ryan, as part of the Fifth Column, is actually carrying water for another malevolent force out to harm humanity, and thus can't reveal himself for that purpose? Remember, the original V miniseries ended with the Resistance sending a message to the Visitor's wartime enemy, another alien race. out there in space

So is V setting this subplot up with Ryan's refusal to strip for the camera? We'll see. I hope that I'm not being cleverer than the writers of the series here...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bad Editing: A Klingon in the bush is worth...?

So...I was re-watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) on the weekend, and I caught this blooper that I had long ago forgotten about. Actually, it's not a blooper per se, but actually an example of some really sloppy editing.

At about the 57 minute point of the movie, Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis) is on the surface of the Genesis Planet resting (top picture), when a tree in the foreground suddenly pops up (as part of the "unstable" matrix of the artificial planet). Saavik then stands up, as the ground spits steam (bottom picture). Saavik approaches adolescent Spock, who is about to undergo Pon Farr.

But between these two shots, the editor inserted a brief view of a huge tree rippling in the wind...and you can see a Klingon warrior standing there, in the shadow of the tree (middle picture). Look closely. At the right side of the photo. Contextually, he shouldn't be there...

This got me thinking, what's the worst example of editing/cutting you've seen in a major motion picture?

Monday, November 16, 2009

TV REVIEW: The Prisoner: "Arrival" (2009)

"Breathe in. Breath Out. Village Life Goes On."

-- Number 2 (Ian McKellen) in AMC's mini-series, The Prisoner.

Railing against remakes and re-imaginations is becoming something of a full-time job around these parts, and yet, as a blogger, I have no desire to write the same review over and over again.

That review consists, basically, of my disappointment that a remake of a popular, even classic property has been dumbed down for modern audiences by sacrificing the subtext and social commentary.

You may have read that particular review in regards to ABC's V, of late.

And yet, here I am, confronted with AMC's new mini-series, The Prisoner, which is based on one of my favorite genre TV series of all time, Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner (1967-1968).

And once more, I am conflicted between my real, heartfelt desire to embrace new genre television and my objective critical reaction; essentially a wholesale rejection of that which has been delivered to us because, simply, the quality of the thing is not up to snuff.

Regarding the original Prisoner's first episode (also entitled "Arrival,") I wrote: "In the valhalla of genre television there is nothing even remotely like The Prisoner, the late-1960s British allegory that focuses explicitly on the idea that "no man is just a number." With steadfast zeal and an almost radical sense of dedication and single-mindedness The Prisoner devotes itself to the ideals of individual freedom and liberty, and finds that contemporary Western society -- here represented by a hermetically-sealed Village -- doesn't measure up."

The new Prisoner is so confused, so hopelessly muddled, you can't tell what it's about (or even what it wants to be about).

On a purely literal reading, you can't even easily discern what information, precisely, Number 2 (Ian McKellen) hopes to extract from the new Number 6 (Jim Caviezel). The original program saw sharp-tongued McGoohan match wits -- week-after-week -- with a different, desperate Number 2, over the reasons behind his resignation from the British secret service. Even in apparent surrender to brain-washing, emotional betrayal, and outright torture, the original Number 6 remained...indomitable.

The new Number # 6 isn't cut from the same stubborn cloth. "Please, I'm nobody," he whimpers pitifully in the first hour, making a personal admission McGoohan's character would just never make, under any circumstances. Then, this Number 6 actually has to be told otherwise by his doctor at the Village clinic. "You're a free man," she insists helpfully.

If this Number 6 is that close to the breaking point at the beginning of his stay at the Village, where's the fun of watching Number 2 go at him for six episodes?

But -- okay, fine -- Hamlet gets re-interpreted all the time. Mel Gibson even made him a man of action, so perhaps this Number Six is going to stiffen his spine in the course of the mini-series.

But a more egregious sin committed by the remake is that it unnecessarily muddles the crisp premise of the original. For instance, the new program adds mysterious Crystal Towers (which look like the World Trade Center towers...) to the skyline of the Village, as well as the not-very cryptic instruction to "follow the towers" to find escape. If that's all it takes to escape, grab a few inmates and that tour bus and go. On foot, the Rover (still a big white ball...) might get you, but in a large vehicle?

The mini-series also resorts to frustrating, momentum-halting, Lost-style flashbacks so audiences can see this Number 6 working on the job he unceremoniously quit, and learn about his reasons for resigning (something we were never, EVER told on the original series).

Again, in the original series, Number 6's refusal to reveal the the reason of his resignation was about a larger, thematic issue. About privacy. About the fact that a government that catalogued, numbered and tagged people still didn't have the right to be privy to individual, personal decisions. Number 6's reasons were his own; and that's why he didn't share them.

Here, I suspect we're going to discover some noble reason for Number 6's resignation. That -- as a data analyst observing human behavior -- he was asked to do something immoral; or that he saw something that he didn't like. That's a corruption of the original program's philosopy. It wasn't that the original Number 6 was trying to do something good, necessarily, by resigning. It's that he believed he had the right to make personal decisions independent of Big Brother. He fought to preserve that right -- the liberty of the individual to make choices for himself.

The new mini-series also throws in mind-altering drugs, and cripples the new Villagers with an arbitrary case of selective amnesia. This means they can apparently remember Thomas Edison and Darwin (mentioned by name...), but have only vague flashes of the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben (images scrawled in secret by Village rebels). This means that the denizens can quote the number of stars in the heaven, but not the source of that information.

You see, this Village isn't just an inescapable burg that happens to be geographically isolated. On the contrary, Number 2 makes the case that the Village is the only civilization in the entire world; and that it is the only civilization where any of the prisoners have ever lived; that has ever existed in human history. This makes no sense, because human memory is a web of connections; a network of context. Can you remember Darwin without remembering the idea of evolution? And if you think of evolution, might you not also think of the Scopes Trial? And Tennessee? And then the American South? See my point? You can't know Thomas Edison, but not know how his inventions were put to use.

In broad terms, the new version of "Arrival" follows the outline of the original premire episode. In other words, Number 6 arrives in a daze, takes a taxi that travels to "local destinations only," and then buys a map that shows only the territory of the Village.

Finally, he becomes entangled with a woman who might be a traitor (the doctor at the clinic) and matches wits with Number 2. But the new show -- in a telltale sign of our age -- also mistakes soap opera-storytelling for mature drama.

Therefore, we are introduced, at length, to Number 2's family, including his sick wife (or rather, a wife he may be keeping sick...) and his curious son, who may be ready to rebel against his Dad and the Village.

Therefore, the cab driver and his family become recurring characters too, and we see their home life as well.

Therefore, we get those disruptive flashbacks showing Number 6 hooking up with a strange woman following his resignation.

The lovely female doctor at the clinic is also apparently a regular character here, a prospective love interest.

Again, this is all just totally unnecessary and burdensome material. The original Prisoner concerned one individual bucking the system in the here and now of the Village; battling his incarceration in the present. He had no friends. He could trust no one. He was a man alone, and his mind -- and his privacy -- were his own too. The new Prisoner spreads the focus around, both in terms of characters and of time line. The result of this unnecessary opening-up is that a sense of immediacy and place is sacrificed.

The thing I most disliked about this new version of The Prisoner is that it is edited exactly like everything else you see on TV these days. It relies on flash cuts, shaky-cam action, and sped-up/slowed-down footage. There's nothing original in the execution And that too is a betrayal of the surreal qualities inherent in the original (right down to production design). Again, this is how I wrote of the original series: "One of the facets that I've always admired about The Prisoner is this powerful sense of place, of another world (and the Village is, in fact, a place called Portmeiron in North Wales.) The series would not be so effective if the Village seemed fake. This is the oddest "jail" you've ever seen, yet it feels real, not gimmicky or the product of special effects.

Well, the new Village looks like a typical movie construct; and because it has been made so large -- more "The City" than "The Village" -- it's impossible to get a real feel for it. The original Village was small enough that Number 6 could explore it, prod at the boundaries, and become familiar with every aspect of it. The new Village -- of greater size -- could never be fully explored by one man.

In fairness, this new Prisoner is much better than the remake of V. And I enjoyed how it attempted to position itself as a sequel to as well as a remake of the McGoohan series. On the latter front, note that old Number 93 is dressed as Number 6 from the original series, that he lives in a similarly-decorated house (down to the lava lamp), and was also obsessed with escape. More importantly take a look at his number. 93. 9 - 3 = 6. Get it?

But overall I found this new Prisoner unnecessarily lugubrious. It is underwhelming from a visual standpoint; soap-opera-ish in the extreme, and it layers too many complications upon the franchise's clean, vibrant premise.

Be seeing you? Perhaps not...

New Film and TV Books from McFarland

Irwin Allen Television Productions, 1964–1970

Before establishing himself as the “master of disaster” with the 1970s films The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, Irwin Allen created four of television’s most exciting and enduring science-fiction series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants.

These 1960s series were full of Allen’s favorite tricks, techniques and characteristic touches, and influenced other productions from the original Star Trek forward. Every science-fiction show owes something to Allen, yet none has equaled his series’ pace, excitement, or originality.

This detailed examination and documentation of the premise and origin of the four shows offers an objective evaluation of every episode—and demonstrates that when Irwin Allen’s television episodes were good, they were great, and when they were bad, they were still terrific fun.

Terrorism in American Cinema

The American cinema of terrorism, although coming to prominence primarily in the 1970s amidst high-profile Palestinian terrorist activity, actually dates back to the beginnings of the Cold War. But this early terrorist cinema was centered largely around the Bomb—who had it, who would use it, when—and differs greatly from the terrorist cinema that would follow. Changing world events soon broadened the cinema of terrorism to address emerging international conflicts, including Black September, pre–9/11 Middle Eastern conflicts, and the post–9/11 “War on Terror.” This analytical filmography of American terrorist films establishes terrorist cinema as a unique subgenre with distinct thematic narrative and stylistic trends. It covers all major American films dealing with terrorism, from Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960) to Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (2008).

Peter Cushing

From his film debut in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) through Biggles (1985), here is the movie career of Peter Cushing, known as “the gentle man of horror.” From interviews and extensive personal correspondence, the authors are able to provide Cushing’s own views on many of his 91 films.

A plot synopsis for each film is followed by production data and credits and contemporary reviews.

Encyclopedia of Television Law Shows

When media coverage of courtroom trials came under intense fire in the aftermath of the infamous New Jersey v. Hauptmann lawsuit (a.k.a. the Lindbergh kidnapping case,) a new wave of fictionalized courtroom programming arose to satiate the public’s appetite for legal drama. This book is an alphabetical examination of the nearly 200 shows telecast in the U.S. from 1948 through 2008 involving courtrooms, lawyers and judges, complete with cast and production credits, airdates, detailed synopses and background information. Included are such familiar titles as Perry Mason, Divorce Court, Judge Judy, LA Law, and The Practice, along with such obscure series as They Stand Accused, The Verdict Is Yours Sam Benedict, Trials of O’Brien, and The Law and Mr. Jones. The book includes an introductory overview of law-oriented radio and TV broadcasts from the 1920s to the present, including actual courtroom coverage (or lack of same during those years in which cameras and microphones were forbidden in the courtroom) and historical events within TV’s factual and fictional treatment of the legal system. Also included in the introduction is an analysis of the rise and fall of cable’s Court TV channel.

The Christopher Lee Filmography

The career of Christopher Lee has stretched over half a century in every sort of film from comedy to horror and in such diverse roles as the Man With the Golden Gun, Frankenstein’s monster, Fu Manchu and Sherlock Holmes.

From Corridor of Mirrors in 1948 to Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones in 2002, this reference book covers 166 theatrical feature films: all production information, full cast and crew credits, a synopsis, and a critical analysis, with a detailed account of its making and commentary drawn from some thirty hours of interviews with Lee himself. Two appendices list Lee’s television feature films and miniseries and his short films.

The work concludes with an afterword by Christopher Lee himself. Photographs from the actor’s private collection are included.

Grande Dame Guignol Cinema

This critically analytical filmography examines 45 movies featuring “grande dames” in horror settings. Following a history of women in horror before 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which launched the “Grande Dame Guignol” subgenre of older women featured as morally ambiguous leading ladies, are all such films (mostly U.S.) that came after that landmark release. The filmographic data includes cast, crew, reviews, synopses, and production notes, as well as recurring motifs and each role’s effect on the star’s career.

A History of the Doc Savage Adventures in Pulps, Paperbacks, Comics, Fanzines, Radio and Film

Doc Savage is the prototype of the modern fictional superhero. The character exploded onto the scene in 1933, with the Great Depression and1the gathering clouds of war as a cultural backdrop. The adventure series is examined in relation to historical events and the changing tastes of readers, with special attention paid to the horror and science fiction elements. The artwork features illustrations, covers, and original art. Chapters cover Doc Savage paperbacks, pulp magazines, comic books, and fanzines, and an appendix offers biographies of all major contributors to the series.

Dark Dreams 2.0

Greatly expanded and updated from the 1977 original, this new edition explores the evolution of the modern horror film, particularly as it reflects anxieties associated with the atomic bomb, the Cold War, 1960s violence, sexual liberation, the Reagan revolution, 9/11 and the Iraq War. It divides modern horror into three varieties (psychological, demonic and apocalyptic) and demonstrates how horror cinema represents the popular expression of everyday fears while revealing the forces that influence American ideological and political values. Directors given a close reading include Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Michael Haneke, Robert Aldrich, Mel Gibson and George A. Romero. Additional material discusses postmodern remakes, horror franchises and Asian millennial horror. This book also contains more than 950 frame grabs and a very extensive filmography.

Screen Sirens Scream!

These twenty heroines portrayed imperiled women in science fiction, horror, film noir and mystery movies from the 1930s to the 1960s. Some—like Sandy Descher, who confronted the giant ants of Them!—were only girls when they faced their screen perils. Others—such as Mary Murphy, who played opposite Marlon Brando in The Wild One—were leading ladies in other film genres. Yet others—such as June Wilkinson, considered by many as Playboy’s greatest model—came from outside the acting world.

Each interview is preceded by an introduction. Besides the three above, the interviewees are Ramsay Ames, Claudia Barrett, Jean Byron, Linda Christian, Faith Domergue, Amanda Duff, Evangelina Elizondo, Margaret Field, Mimi Gibson, Marilyn Harris, Kitty de Hoyos, Donna Martel, Joyce Meadows, Noreen Nash, Cynthia Patrick, Paula Raymond and Joan Taylor. Among the films they starred in are The Mummy’s Ghost, Robot Monster, Tarzan and the Mermaids, This Island Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Where Danger Lives, The Man from Planet X, The Monster That Challenged the World, Frankenstein, The Brain from Planet Arous, Phantom from Space, The Mole People, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers. Some interviews were previously published in a different form in fan magazines.

Food in the Movies, 2d ed.

Although food has been part of motion pictures since the silent era, for the most part it has been treated with about as much respect as movie extras: it’s always been there on the screen but seldom noticed.

For the most part filmmakers have settled on three basic ways to treat food: as a prop in which the food is usually obscured from sight or ignored by the actors; as a transition device to compress time and help advance the plot; as a symbol or metaphor, or in some other meaningful way, to make a dramatic point or to reveal an aspect of an actor’s character, mood or thought process.

This hugely expanded and revised edition details 400 food scenes, in addition to the 400 films reviewed for the first edition, and an introduction tracing the technical, artistic and cultural forces that contributed to the emergence of food films as a new genre—originated by such films as Tampopo, Babette’s Feast and more recently by films like Mostly Martha, No Reservations and Ratatouille. A filmography is included as an appendix.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Cinema of the Psychic Realm: A Critical Survey

I have already read and admired two books on film from author and scholar Paul Meehan: Saucer Movies (Scarecrow Press, 1998) and Tech-Noir: The Fusion of Science Fiction and Film Noir (McFarland 2008). Tech-Noir, in particular, is one of the best film books I've encountered in the last several years.

Not long ago, I received a review copy of Meehan's latest effort from McFarland, 2009's Cinema of the Psychic Realm: A Critical Survey. Essentially, it's a guided tour across a century of productions that feature ESP, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and the like.

The book's first chapter, "A Brief History of the Paranormal in Fact and Fiction" sets the stage for the study, escorting readers from the Age of Antiquity (the Oracle at Delphi, "Psi in the Bible") to the Age of Aquarius. Meehan also includes crisp discussions of notable works of fiction that feature psychic themes, including Odd John (1935), Slan (1946) Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human (1953), and Bester's The Demolished Man (1953).

The author's descriptions of these literary works proves illuminating because -- at least to a certain extent -- much of the modern Hollywood viewpoint on psychic power seems derived from one or all of them. This inaugural chapter ends with Meehan's notation that the paranormal's "shadow world of visions, mind-reading and prophecy would find its most popular expression in the medium of film."

In the following seven chapters, Meehan leaves no stone-unturned pursuing this thesis, excavating the fusion of the psychic world with art form of the film. He ponders silent films in Chapter Two "Early Paranormal Films," and "ESP in Drama, Comedy and Children's Films" in Chapter 3. He looks at the role of ESP in "Paranormal Crime and Melodrama" in Chapter Four. In the last half of the book, the author veers towards what is traditionally regarded as "genre" films, with a careful, thorough view of "The dark side of ESP," "Alien ESP," and even "Science Fiction Blockbusters."

I often tell anyone who will listen that the secret to penning a good reference book about film is not choice of topic; but organization of topic. Meehan understands this, and accordingly uses his premise to make connections that are inventive and rewarding. For instance, Star Wars (1977) and the franchise sequels/prequels have been reviewed approximately a million times in film books over the years, but Meehan thoroughly re-contextualizes the George Lucas film cycle in terms of the depiction of the psychic; in terms of the mystical "Force" that powers both the Jedi Knights and the Sith Lords.

Meehan notes the 1977 film's unexposed core theme: "the conflict between the intuitive, preternatural realm of the Force and the futuristic universe of technology and machines." Continuing, he writes "Darth Vader's seemingly counter-intuitive contention that the "technological terror" and overwhelming military might represented by the Death Star is vulnerable to the mystical workings of the Force proves to be correct." (page 145).

The same discussion notes how the Jedi represent an "atavistic return to the ancient shamanic traditions" of the past whereas Vader represents the "co-opting of these shamanic traditions by the machine world, his human identity having been subsumed" by mechanical life-extension techniques and devices. Another worthwhile insight about the Star Wars films arrives on page 161, where Meehan notes the Jedi Order's "hyper-masculinity," and how it takes over "what are traditionally thought of as aspects of feminine mysticism and magic" (a reliance on feelings and intuition, for instance...)

As you can detect by this example, the application of Meehan's organizing umbrella of the "psychic realm" provides new and interesting readings of many films you've watched a dozen times. And that's a great service, because the author makes you want to watch these movies all over again. In Cinema of the Psychic Realm, you'll find persuasive discussions about Minority Report, Dune and other films you've loved over the years.

If Cinema of The Psychic Realm exhibits any drawback worth noting it's that you want this compelling book to be...longer. The discussion is limited mostly to film, and you want Meehan to occasionally break-out to ancillary productions so he can keep making this valuable connections about the psychic realm. For instance, there's a valid argument to be made that psychic powers have found their most powerful expression not in film at all, but in film's cousin: television. From One Step Beyond (1959-1961) -- an anthology devoted entirely to the paranormal -- to programs such as Beyond Reality, Millennium, The X-Files, Medium, Ghost Whisperer, and Fringe, TV has become the dominant domain of the psychic realm on a near-weekly basis for the last two decades or so.

Of course, this book's topic -- as it states right there in the title for all to see -- is Cinema, not TV, so Meehan can't be faulted. Yet it would certainly be rewarding to see Meehan tackle Television of the Psychic Realm next; a necessary book-end to his thorough and valuable survey of the psychic in film.

Paul Meehan's Cinema of the Psychic Realm: A Critical Survey is currently available for purchase from McFarland here, and it's a book I can recommend to readers of this blog without reservation. And while you're at the McFarland site, pick up a copy of Tech-Noir too...