Saturday, February 22, 2014

Now Available: Space:1999: The Whispering Sea (2014)

My new book, the officially-licensed Space:1999 novel The Whispering Sea (Powys; 2014), is now available.  You can purchase it at this link. 

The book is my first venture into the Year Two series continuity, and serves as a "bridge" between the episodes "The Metamorph" and "The Exiles." The story explains how the shape-shifting Psychon, Maya (Catherine Schell), went from being a refugee and alien on Moonbase Alpha, to its resident science officer.

Seriously, this book was so much fun to write, and if you're a Space:1999 fan, I hope first that you purchase it, and second that you enjoy the hell out of it.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Thundarr the Barbarian: "Attack of the Amazon Women" (November 8, 1980)

In “Attack of the Amazons,” Thundarr, Ariel and Ookla become involved in a battle involving Amazon warriors and innocent villagers. 

The leader of the Amazons is Strya, a web-fingered wizard and shark-woman from the sea capable of summoning a deadly beast called the Kraken.

As Thundarr and his friends learn, the Amazons and Strya seek a weapon at the bottom of the sea, a nuclear missile from 2000 years earlier, from before the apocalypse….

Amazon women have appeared frequently through cult-TV history, on series as diverse as Wonder Woman and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (“Planet of the Amazon Women,”) and this week’s episode of Thundarr the Barbarian (1980 – 1982) features them as well. 

Unfortunately, these legendary, strong women are not treated with tremendous amounts of respect in the teleplay. For instance, when Ookla learns of an army of female warriors, he actually laughs. This point of view doesn’t make a lot of sense given Ookla’s friendship with the powerful Ariel, who is capable of hypnosis, telekinesis, not to mention the manifestation of energy beams and force-fields. 

Ookla’s contempt also doesn’t make sense because he lives in a world 2000 years away from mid-20th century stereotypes about women. To some extent, the episode recovers by featuring a battle of the female wizards -- Strya vs. Ariel -- but the Ookla giggles are tough to get past.   It’s always weird and off-putting when a writer’s biases make it to air, and stick out like a sore thumb.

If “Attack of the Amazon Women,” doesn’t tread very forward-thinking ground in terms of its narrative, the same can’t be said of the (again) impressive visualizations. The episode is set at the ruins of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. The sculptures of the four presidents are damaged -- one chief executive has lost the top of his head -- and stand on the edge of a large sea.

The visuals suggest not only that an earthquake or other disaster has damaged the famous monument, but that the very shape of the sea has been altered too.  It’s intriguing to see Thundarr and his friends at Mount Rushmore, but having absolutely no knowledge of its importance.

Next week: “The Brotherhood of Night.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost (1991 - 1992): "Future Boy" (October 17, 1992)

In “Future Boy,” Annie Porter (Jenny Drugan) laments the fact that her father (Timothy Bottoms) treats her like a child.  Annie believes she is fully able to handle herself, even considering the perils of the jungle.

One day, while exploring the wild alone, Annie spots a teenage boy, Simon (Danny Gonzalez), who suddenly materializes nearby. He has been in some kind of temporal collision with a menacing alien cyborg, one that is “bigger, meaner and smarter” than a T-Rex.   

After knocking out Scarface, the cyborg hones in Simon, hoping to steal his time belt, the device that has allowed the boy to transport from the year 2062 all the way back to 1992.  

Protecting Simon from harm, and defeating the cyborg (who has a flaw in his “thermal vision,”) Jenny proves to her Dad that she is capable of defending herself.

“Future Boy,” like “Day for Knight” or “The Sorceress” is a story about a visitor who comes into the Land of the Lost, helps teach the Porter a valuable lesson, and then is on his or her way.

No muss, no fuss.

A woefully familiar tale, “Future Boy” doesn’t feature much that is new, or of interest.  Annie already met a teenage contemporary in the aforementioned “Day for Knight,” and in this story, she and Simon basically commiserate about the fact that their parents just don’t understand them.

In terms of visualizing the story, Simon’s costume – a silver jump-suit -- is the most clichéd “look” imaginable in terms of futuristic garb.

On the other hand, Simon does check a wrist device at one point in “Future Boy “and does the equivalent of “googling” information to learn about his nemesis, the Cyborg. 

That nice touch -- anticipating the Internet and the easy availability of information on the Web -- makes up for the trite costuming selections.

Another interesting factoid: Simon is from San Francisco, which becomes an island following an Earthquake in the year 2047, according to this episode.  Since the Porters, Christa and Simon are all from San Francisco, viewers might theorize that there is a long-standing link between S.F. and the alien world depicted on the series.

I mentioned “The Sorceress” above, and that story landed not only a female wizard in the Land of the Lost, but her cursed nemesis as well, who was depicted by a embarrassingly bad stop-motion monster. 

“Future Boy” resurrects that approach too. 

The Cyborg villain that arrives with Simon looks incredibly silly, and not at all menacing.  He looks like a pig with Borg implants, in particular.

Although “Future Boy” tends toward preachy didacticism with lines of dialogue such as “we need to talk about out our problems. Less blaming, more trust,” it also features a truly funny moment as Simon is introduced to Tasha, the baby dino.

“He’s a time traveler, she’s a dinosaur,” Annie deadpans.

Yep, just another regular day in the Land of the Lost.

Next week: “Siren’s Song.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cloned from a Mutual Zygote: Brainstorm/Recall Edition

Cult-Movie Review: Brainstorm (1983)

Although deemed “provocative” and at least somewhat “redeemed by its special effects” (according to a review by Hal Goodman in Psychology Today), Douglas Trumball’s Brainstorm is nonetheless one of those genre films that never quite gets its due. 

In part, this lack of widespread appreciation may result from the fact that the 1983 movie seems to defy easy categorization.

Is Brainstorm a science fiction film? A horror movie? Or is it fantasy? 

Like Altered States (1980), and Dreamscape (1984), Brainstorm seems to straddle all those genres. There’s even a “head film” aspect to its trippy visions of the after-life, and the movie’s final moments of cosmic transcendence.

Secondly, Brainstorm is the final film of beloved actress Natalie Wood, who died in unfortunate circumstances before the movie was completed. And the film’s very subject matter -- regarding the death experience – seems distinctly uncomfortable in light of the real life tragedy.

Watching the film today, it’s difficult not to think about what happened to Wood.

And yet despite such concerns, Brainstorm is indeed a provocative and meticulously-crafted work of art. With intelligence and dedication, the Trumball film imagines what might happen once scientists develop a machine that blows “communication as we know it right out of the water.”

In the year1983, that colorful-sounding achievement probably felt rather remote and woefully futuristic. 

Yet in 2014, we reckon with -- on nearly a daily basis, too -- the myriad ways that new communication technologies change how human beings relate to one another. 

In the span since Trumball made his film, we have seen the rise of cell-phones, social media, the Internet, and even the first steps towards virtual reality.

This sense of a rapidly-shifting communications landscape wasn’t always clear to audiences in the context of Brainstorm’s original release in the early eighties. However, time seems to have at last caught up with the forward-thinking film. Viewed now, it is plain that Brainstorm gazes meaningfully at the ways that a revolutionary communications device (one that records and transmits brain impulses…) impacts every aspect of human relationships, and even our belief systems. 

Commendably, the film is even-handed and judicious in its musings. Unlike WarGames, Blue Thunder Superman III, Never Say Never Again or Nightmares, which all worried about a future of computerization and increasingly inhuman technology, Brainstorm suggests and visualizes the idea that new technology can actually repair relationships, or bring peace of mind about our ultimate dread: death itself. The yang to that yin is that such technology can also be used to hurt people, albeit sometimes inadvertently.

Seen in light of everything that has come down in the pike in the world of “communication” since the Trumball film premiered, we might today regard Brainstorm not just as provocative, but actually revelatory.

“We blew it, didn’t we?”

Scientists Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher) and Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) have developed a revolutionary new technology. They have created a special helmet-like device that can read and record the impulses of one human brain, and then make those impulses available (on a copper-like tape…) for other humans to view. 

But it’s not strictly a matter of viewing the world through another person’s eyes. While experiencing a pre-recorded tape, a percipient also feels everything that happened during the recording. They can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel those experiences.

Lillian and Michael’s boss, Terson (Cliff Robertson) is determined to get this new device on the market as quickly as possible, but also invites the U.S. Government to participate in the research. This act spurs a flat-out revolt on Lillian’s part.  She is certain the device will be applied to purposes of spying and war. A new weapon is the last thing she wants or desires.

Meanwhile, Michael learns that the machine is helpful in another way. He and his wife, PR expert Karen (Wood) have been on the verge of separation and divorce. But the new machine allows them each to “see” one another in a new light.  The invention saves -- and renews -- their romantic, intimate relationship.

When Lillian suffers a devastating heart attack in the laboratory, she puts on the helmet and records the death experience itself.

Afterwards, Michael becomes desperate to screen her last tape, but again, the U.S. military stands in the way.

“There’s more to it than just practical application and packaging.”

In Brainstorm, Douglas Trumball utilizes the brain impulse device as a vehicle for exploring human relationships, and the way that advancing technology in the field of communication can affect those relationships.  If the film seems somewhat episodic (and occasionally incoherent…) it is because, primarily, the screenplay charts the device’s impact on several different aspects of life, and upon several different characters or groups.

For example, the U.S. government sees the device as something that can be used in war, to torture prisoners.

At one point in the film, Michael learns that the military has recorded a mental patient’s experience of a “psychotic break,” and that this tape can drive a man or woman to the brink of madness. Michael’s own son accidentally views the tape, and goes insane.

For a moment, just imagine being able to impose a psychotic break on a political enemy, or rival. Such an assault would appear to outsiders as a natural problem, not as an external attack.  Today, our country has debated about what constitutes “torture,” and Brainstorm seems to understand the terrible danger of a device that can destroy the mind, or cause terrible physical suffering, but leave no physical marks.

But in terms of communication specifically, our government has also entered into clandestine relationships with commercial giants like Verizon and Google so that it can access their data and learn more about their customer base…us.  This very brand of government-business alliance is forecast here, as the military is given total access to the privately-constructed communications device and Michael’s laboratory. The military’s intent is to weaponize the brain impulse device, and possibly even use it against the public. The point, however, is that in a world of governments launching cyber-attacks on other governments, this idea hardly seems far-fetched anymore.

One of the other scientists on Michael’s and Lillian’s team sees the device in another way. He watches a tape of a fellow scientist engaging in sexual intercourse, but then cuts the tape so it is a repeating loop of the moment of orgasm.

Like a drug addict, this scientist eventually loses all interest in life, his job, and his family, and simply re-plays the tape, experiencing moment of ecstasy after moment of ecstasy. Nothing else matters.

This subplot is no doubt Brainstorm’s spikiest and most outré application of technology, but we know today that it is also not terribly far-fetched. A generation has grown up watching readily-available Internet porn.  In other words, Brainstorm forecasts the ease and speed at which a communications device, like the Internet, can deliver sexual imagery. Today, we often read of people being addicted to “Internet porn,” or Internet porn ruining a marriage. In Brainstorm, an intervention is necessary when a new brand of porn is invented, and it becomes irresistible to the “user.”

The aspect of Brainstorm that I admire most, perhaps, is its consideration of a new communications technology as a tool for psychological therapy; for generating empathy. At one juncture, Michael experiences life through his wife’s eyes, and is suddenly granted a view of himself that no one has ever been afforded in real life. 

Suddenly, he understands what it is like to live with himself; with a man who is obsessed with his work, emotionally distant, and sometimes even emotionally absent. The key to empathy is being able to put yourself in the mind-set of another person, and the machine permits that. It is the ultimate in role-playing. You don’t have to imagine your partner’s feelings anymore, you can actually experience them. Brainstorm thus suggests that this machine could change the nature of our most basic relationships; that it could be a useful and productive tool for therapy.

There are long sections of Brainstorm that concern Michael and Karen’s relationship, but the strife is resolved when they can really understand each other’s point of view for the first time.  I don’t know about you, but my wife says she often wonders what I’m thinking (!).  Perhaps all couple relationships could be improved if we could feel what our spouse or significant other feels.

In its denouement, Brainstorm goes big…and trippy.

Lillian’s death tape is played, and Trumball escorts viewers to the very edge of creation, and beyond.  The death tape reveals Lillian having an OBE (out of body experience), looking down at herself from outside her own eyes. Then the imagery resolves to a series of tear drop-like bubbles. Each one seems to represent an isolated but accessible moment from Lillian’s life.

Once this imagery is left behind, the film cuts to a brief view of humans trapped -- and writhing -- in fleshy-outgrowths like organic prison cells. This composition symbolizes not merely the possibility of Hell, but the fear that comes with being separated from the material or physical universe.  We go through our lives trapped in our bodies, and physically separated from one another, the imagery suggests.

Finally, we follow Lillian’s disembodied soul on a journey through galactic space. We see her soul join a million butterfly-like -- or angel-like -- organisms (more souls) as they move gently and slowly into a warm and welcoming light.  This is what comes at the end of life, finally: a new interconnectedness, a new togetherness not fully possible in our mortal, separate, individual form.

What I find most fascinating about this view of the afterlife, is that it is, simply, an augmentation of what Lillian and Michael’s machine already accomplishes. 

Their “revolutionary” form of communication allows a different brand of togetherness. It permits empathy, as opposed to physical (or energetic, I guess…) connection. But that empathy, that understanding, is a real step closer to the cosmic union portrayed in the film’s final phantasm. In this case, a communications technology allows us to “reach out and touch someone” in a way previously unimaginable

In the end, Brainstorm suggests that Heaven is not a place. Instead, it is the accumulated light of our all our souls together, shining as one. And the communications breakthrough wrought by the film’s scientists not only reveals this truth, but in some senses mimics aspects of that togetherness. 

As I noted above, Brainstorm moves in episodic fits and starts. Yet, at the same time, it is never anything less than wildly cinematic.  There’s an incredible P.O.V. journey on a rollercoaster (and through a water slide…), for instance, and other visual wonders here. 

Accordingly, one can’t help but wonder if Trumball is suggesting that the communal experience of movie-watching (another form of communications technology) is the real antecedent to the machine depicted in the film. We see through the eyes of several characters in the film, including Lillian as she faces her own death.  Given this first-person or POV perspective, the idea of feeling their emotions hardly seems out of the realm of possibility.

Brainstorm is, perhaps, a good deal better than its reputation suggests. Louise Fletcher delivers a brilliant performance, particularly during her heart attack scene, and the film ends on a cosmic high-note, explicitly comparing (with its North Carolina locations…) the Wright Bros. achievement of flight with Lillian and Michael’s discovery of what exists beyond the boundary of death. The only place the 1983 film creaks is during an extended action sequence at a manufacturing plant, where an assembly line goes comically -- and interminably -- haywire.

Other than that low point, Brainstorm lives up to its device’s PR/advertising pitch. The Trumball movie plays (commendably) like “research for a better tomorrow.”

Movie Trailer: Brainstorm (1983)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Late Night Blogging: Freddy Lives!

At Anorak: Portals of Light, Portals of Dark: The Yin and Yang of Contact (1977) and Event Horizon (1997)

My new article is up at Anorak. It is a comparison of the themes and visuals of Contact (1997) and Event Horizon (1997).

Here's a snippet: 

"...two notable, big-budget genre movies — Contact and Event Horizon — were released within approximately one month of each other, and both spotlighted machine or device that could open a gateway to another place: a distinctly spiritual dimension.
Additionally these devices were conceived in eerily similar visual fashion, as machine-like spheres with spinning outer rings.  In other words, the devices resembled high-tech whirligigs.

portral1 300x151 Portals of Light, Portals of Dark: The Yin and Yang of Contact (1997) and Event Horizon (1997)
portal5 300x184 Portals of Light, Portals of Dark: The Yin and Yang of Contact (1997) and Event Horizon (1997)

Intriguingly, these 1997 films also complemented one another thematically, functioning as veritable mirror images. The device featured in Contact opened a doorway to a New Age-styled Heaven, and the device in Event Horizon opened to a very Catholic version of Hell.
This was the genre yin-and-yang — the contrary forces — of the summer of 1997.
Contact was a vision of man and his technology connecting to the equivalent of non-denomination bliss, and the opposite view, held in Event Horizon, was of such technology cracking open a fearsome doorway to torment, guilt, shame, and regret."

Check out the full article, here (and if you have the time and the inclination, leave me a comment to let me know what you think.)

Cult Movie Review: Devil's Pass (2013)

One of the most unsettling mysteries of the Cold War Era remains the so-called “Dyatlov Pass Incident.” 

For those who don’t recall the specific details of this gruesome real life tragedy, nine Russian skiers and mountain climbers -- including several students -- embarked on an expedition in the Ural Mountains during the winter of 1959.

The group, led by 23-year old Igor Dyatlov, apparently strayed off-course and ended up near Kholal Syakhyl, the so-called “Mountain of the Dead.”

The hikers were never seen alive again.

They are presumed to have died -- under extremely mysterious circumstances -- on February 2, 1959.

Their corpses were discovered ten days later, and in bizarre conditions.

One woman’s tongue appeared to have been ripped out at the root

One man’s corpse showed high levels of radioactivity.

And two of the hikers died in the snow naked despite the relative proximity of their base camp, not to mention available clothing and shoes. The weather was such that the cold air would have “burned” their exposed skin in a matter of moments.

Dyatlov’s body was itself discovered in a defensive pose, as if he had been locked in battle with, well, something.  

But oddly, none of the corpses showed any sign of soft tissue damage. There was no bruising, no cuts…nothing. And the expedition’s tents were found shredded; ripped apart.

Some people in the area reported seeing strange lights in the sky on the night that the climbers died. And years later -- in 1980 -- the Russian author of a book investigating the case also died mysteriously in a car accident. 

Accordingly, the idea of a conspiracy surrounding the tragedy has grown for decades.

What really killed the hikers in those mountains? And what was the “compelling natural force” that official reports blamed for the group’s demise?

Was it the Mansi, a local tribe that may not have greeted trespassers warmly?

Was it an avalanche?

Was it UFOs?

A Siberian Yeti? 

Or -- as has been often theorized -- did the hikers accidentally stumble upon some secret Soviet military experiment?

Recently, at least one source postulated that “infra-sounds” – or a “repeated wind event” may have been responsible for the deaths of the team-members.

Specifically, a strange noise or frequency may have been produced in the unusual topography of the Ural Mountains, and induced panic and madness in the experienced skiers and climbers.

Renny Harlin’s new horror film, Devil’s Pass (2013) is a found-footage exploration of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, and one that does a fairly creditable job of presenting every possible explanation for the deaths of the hikers (including “hypothermic dementia," a term which means that the extreme cold drove the hikers to take off their clothes...because they believed they were actually hot...)

After presenting all this documentary-ish material with dedication, clarity and seriousness, the film then suddenly veers off on its own utterly mad, and yes, brilliantly original, direction.

In short, the answer behind the Dyatlov Pass Incident as postulated by Devil’s Pass is one that you could have never imagined, but which is, simply, terrorizing.

In fact, the film presents in its gonzo last act a unifying theory of the paranormal. This theory pulls together several formerly unrelated conspiracy theories -- including the Mothman of West Virginia -- and even drags in relevant literary sources such as Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, a book about a man, Billy Pilgrim, who becomes “unstuck” in time.

Although some of the acting in the film isn’t great, to be certain, Devil’s Pass is nonetheless one of those delightfully unpredictable horror films that thrives on its own imagination. It veritably descends into madness and insanity before your eyes. The bravura, audacious denouement is one that -- I feel safe writing -- you won’t soon forget.

In short, Devil’s Pass is a puzzle, and when the final pieces lock into place, engaged viewers will experience a revelation, an“a-ha” moment that absolutely forces a re-reading of everything that happened previously in the narrative.

Too often these days, horror movies play it safe, or depend on coincidences and contrivances to forge their terrifying tales. Devil’s Pass is a nice exception. Piece by piece, moment by moment, a dark destiny is forged here, and the ever-tightening sense of inevitability and terror crafted by the film lingers on in the memory

"Stay Away"
A group of college students from Oregon plan an excursion to the Ural Mountains to re-trace the steps of the ill-fated Dyatlov expedition of 1959. 
The expedition is led by Holly (Holly Goss), a psychology student who has harbored a life-long obsession with the incident, and conspiracy buff Jensen Day (Matt Stokoe).
They are joined by an audio engineer, Denise Evers (Gemma Atkinson), and two experienced climbers, Andy (Ryan Hawley) and J.P. (Luke Albright)
Once in Russia, the American students attempt to conduct an interview with the tenth member of the original expedition, who left the Dyatlov group on the first day. They are rebuffed in their attempt by the hospital staff, and unable to learn more. However, the elderly survivor posts a sign in his window that reads -- in Russian -- “Stay Away.”
Later, the group interviews Alya (Nelly Nielson), a 73-year old woman who was a member of the first rescue team, and examined the bodies. Unusually, she suggests that there were actually eleven corpses on the Mountain of the Dead in 1959, not nine as all other accounts of the incident have established.
The next day, the American group begins its hike up the mountainside, and after the first night discovers over-sized footprints outside the tents. J.P. and Andy think the footprints are hoaxes planted by Holly to spice up her documentary. But later in the day, the group encounters a weather tower, and Holly finds a severed human tongue inside it.
The hikers soon reach the exact location of the Dyatlov massacre. Andy and J.P. are perplexed because they have arrived at the site too soon and their devices -- a GPS and compass -- have apparently gone haywire.
Using a Geiger counter, Holly and Jensen go off to search of any radioactive source. They quickly follow readings to an unusual outcropping in the ice. 
Underneath a thin layer of snow stands a thick bunker door. It locks from the outside, which suggests to Jensen that it was designed to keep something locked in.
Holly suggests that they open the door, which has been sealed by ice…

“There is no truth.”
First things first: Devil’s Pass -- while undeniably ingenious and a hell of a lot of fun -- starts out as being blatantly derivative of The Blair Witch Project (1999).

Both found-footage films involve a female-led group of young students that is making a documentary about a possible supernatural mystery.

Both groups follow in the footsteps of a doomed expedition too, at Coffin Rock, and Kholal Syakhyl, respectively.

Once en route on their journey, the other (male) members of the team start to resent their female leader, and suspect that she may be pulling a hoax on them. Meanwhile, the leader defiantly insists the show must go on, and that they must continue to plow forward, despite hints of danger. 

Similarly, the tools of modernity -- maps, compasses and so forth --  all malfunction or cease to help just when they are needed most in both films

There’s even a night-vision shot here of Holly in which she cries and sniffles, and apologizes for her arrogant behavior, a moment which seems to mirror the famous (unflattering…) up-the-nose close-up of Heather in Blair Witch.

But the two films differ too, and at some point in the action, Devil’s Pass branches decisively away from its model.

To wit: The Blair Witch Project is a terrifying exercise in ambiguity, and the movie concerns the fact that the more the camera seems to see, the less we actually know for certain about the world.

The camera is thus revealed to be a filter of reality, not reality itself, and audiences are left wondering about what they have really witnessed. Is there a witch at all? Or did the kids just get lost in the woods and scare themselves to death?

Devil’s Pass takes a (polar?) opposite route…on steroids.

Once fully immersed in its mystery, Harlin weaves a compelling, labyrinthine theory that attempts to take into account every minute detail of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. He is able to go off the map with this imaginative theory about the mystery in part because he has so assiduously and effectively laid out the details and parameters of the 1959 expedition.

Even little, seemingly unimportant details from real-life accounts are given a shout-out here, like the fact that one expedition member left the others on the first day of the climb, or that a Russian writer died after investigating the incident.

Viewers are thus armed, early on, with a virtual information overload regarding the incident. The upshot is that every time a new threat or detail emerges -- whether it is a severed tongue, a burst of radiation, or footprints that seem to magically appear in the middle of a field -- viewers are able to contextualize Holly and Jensen’s new experience in terms of Dyatlov’s 1959 experience.

More than that, however, the film’s final act suggests that the answer to key questions about reality -- and even the reasons why Holly and Jensen seem compelled to explore this particular mystery -- rests in the personalities and drives of the explorers themselves. 

So if The Blair Witch Project was about our utter inability to see and understand the world as it really is, Devil’s Pass is about the way that destiny informs our choices, and can trap us.

Early on, for instance, in Devil’s Pass, a Psychology professor suggests that there is “no truth” at all to be learned about the Dyatlov Pass Incident, and that everyone who investigates it merely “projects” their own fears onto the mystery. 

The film’s conclusion is a rebuke of that characterization of “no truth” (and thus, in a subtle fashion, a rebuke of Blair Witch). Devil’s Pass believes instead that there are indeed real answers to mysteries, but that, specifically, those answers reveal the truth of the questioners’ or seekers’ nature

I mentioned “destiny” in my introduction, and there is a strong sense here that in pursuing certain mysteries, we are actually pursuing only one real mystery: that of our own particular (and peculiar) end; our fate.   

In snippets of dialogue and in brief discussions about Holly’s dreams and even favorite books, Devil’s Pass hints at the notion that we are all born with -- and live with -- acute (if not always comprehensible) clues about our final destination on this mortal coil.  However, as old Alya suggests, it is not always easy to believe the signs we see with our eyes or feel with our hearts, especially when others wish to tell us what to believe.

There’s one impressive moment near the climax of Devil’s Pass where this notion becomes abundantly plain, and reality itself seems to collapse.

Something inexplicable, something terrifying happens to Holly and Jensen. It involves footage uncovered on a strange video camera. And the riddle, again, regarding its existence involves the idea of following a pre-ordained path, and having half-recollected knowledge of that path. Do you believe your own eyes --even when they see the impossible -- or do you willfully deny what you know to be true?

Suffice it to say, this is cerebral and heady thematic territory, and territory which ably distinguishes Devil’s Pass from other found-footage films.

Of course, the performances aren’t always great in Devil’s Pass. The lead actor, Holly Goss is fine, but she seems to have been cloned at a Claire Danes zygote farm, and at times she appears to mimic that actress’s ticks and expressions to an eerie -- and distracting -- degree.

Also, in the first act, the actors don’t yet seem to have mastered being “in the moment” of a found footage film. There’s just something a little stilted about their delivery. As the action picks up, this problem recedes, and the viewer becomes more involved in the narrative, and the mystery.

On the plus side, Devil’s Pass is the first found footage film set in the Arctic, if memory serves, and it’s a good, isolated setting for this sub-genre, which has already charted the moon (Apollo 18), deep space (Europa Report), the woods (The Blair Witch Project), and other far-out environs. Accordingly, the Harlin film possesses moments of great visual beauty, such as a stunning view of the Northern Lights, and that’s a positive aspect, to be certain. I think that more could have been done with the idea of snow-blindness, perhaps, and the visual confusion inherent in white-on-white environs. But in general, the film is memorable and well-crafted.

Yet the real reason to appreciate Devil’s Pass involves that manic, gonzo last act, as the threads of destiny align, and pieces of the puzzle fall into their terrifying, final place. I would like to say more about this relentless, driving aspect of the movie, but also don’t wish to ruin the film’s sense of audacious surprise and ingenuity. I will state unequivocally that Devil’s Pass is clever in the way that it puts everything together, from the details of the real expedition, to the discussion of Holly’s history (and dreams…) to the very reason that the group seems to be hunted during its ascent.

When Devil’s Pass is over, it veritably demands a re-watch, with a close eye paid to the actions of the “monsters” featured in the film’s last act. On retrospect, their motives seem designed to assure one certain, undeniable outcome…

I want to thank a regular reader here on the blog, Woodchuckgod, for recommending Devil’s Pass. Since I first watched the film a few days ago, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, or about how cleverly the film depicts its story of mystery and tragic fate. Devil’s Pass’s final shots are haunting, and are guaranteed to trouble your slumber. 

Devil’s Pass charts the “compelling natural force” of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, and ends with due consideration of another compelling natural force: the insatiable human appetite to solve a mystery, no matter the cost, no matter the truth revealed.   

Movie Trailer: Devil's Pass (2013)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Late Night Blogging: Battle of the Network Stars Promos

Collectible of the Week: Close Encounters of the Third Kind Bendable Extra-Terrestrial Figure (Imperial; 1977)

Although Star Wars (1977) was heavily merchandised by Kenner, the other science fiction blockbuster of the year -- Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- did not produce many toys.

In fact, just about the only toy I can remember from the film is this once-ubiquitous "bendable" alien figure, released by Imperial Toy Corp.  

This small rubber figure was very much "alone" -- contra the film's ad-line -- and was sold with no accessories, no clothing,  no ship, and very little by way of facial detail. And yet, despite these facts, the figure pretty clearly mirrors the appearance of the aliens in the film.  

Since there was no line of action figures to go with it, this bendable figure -- which I remember seeing everywhere (and especially at flea-markets in the years after its release) -- was kind of a bizarre one-off.   

I remember that, at the time, I had about zero interest in this bendable figure, but kept re-"encountering" it during every visit to the toy store.  Today, it doesn't tend to fetch a whole lot of money, even on the secondary market, though I have seen the Imperial bendable figure from CE3K listed for as much as forty-five dollars.

Comic Book of the Week: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Marvel Special Edition; 1978)

Jigsaw Puzzle of the Week: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Milton Bradley)

Lunchbox of the Week: Close Encounters of the Third Kind