Of Love And Monsters

Love and Monsters was released last month through video on demand and had a limited theatrical release. Like practically every film since this spring, it too could not get a widespread theatrical release because of the coronavirus. It’s a shame since this extraordinary film deserves much more attention, though positive word of mouth might elevate it to cult status sometime down the road.

love and monsters dog

In a nutshell, Love and Monsters stars Dylan O’Brien as Joel Dawson, an insecure twentysomething doing his best to survive during a giant monster apocalypse, all in the name of love.

As told in the film’s opening segments, years ago, a giant asteroid threatening Earth was destroyed with missiles, but the fallout mutated Earth’s cold-blooded creatures into gigantic monstrosities that essentially destroyed civilization. Now what is left of humanity ekes out meager existences in underground shelters and bunkers, and do their best to avoid the bloodthirsty critters that have claimed the surface world.

Joel pines for his lost love, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who was forced to separate from him years ago. Recently, he tracked her down at a colony over 80 miles away from his own and he decides to risk it all to reunite with her. The only problem is that Joel lacks basic survival skills and somehow has to find a way to make it through the deadly surface landscape without being eaten.

Along his voyage, he comes across a handful of memorable characters. These include a loveable dog called Boy, which quickly bonds with Joel, a broken robot Mav1s (Melanie Zanetti), and a scruffy but friendly survivor Clyde (Michael Rooker) and his spunky companion, a young girl named Minnow (Arianna Greenblatt). They help Joel out and teach him how to survive in the rugged landscape by using his wits and valuable survival skills.

Naturally, Joel and Boy face many dangers, some of which are genuinely creepy and tense, but he discovers his own potential as he grows during his journey. Sure, it seems implausible that Joel could have survived for years in the giant monster apocalypse without having basic survival skills, but his emotional journey was quite satisfying to watch.

Love and Monsters is such a pleasant surprise. It is not a dire, dark film, but it is still boasts its fair share of thrills. By the way, the creature designs are very imaginative and unique. The best way to describe the many monsters Joel and the others encounter is to think of those creepy pit creatures from Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong.

Yes, thanks to its lighter tone, Love and Monsters can be compared to Zombieland, though it is not as funny. Still, it does have a lot of heart, has charming characters and it is easy to tell everyone involved from the actors to the production crew to the writers (Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson) and director (Michael Matthews) gave it their all. The result is a satisfying giant monster film with a ton of heart.

In fact, the film strikes and inspirational tone with its message that although a situation may be dire, it is possible to overcome it and thrive. In some strange way, Love and Monster is somewhat relevant to our current situation by demonstrating the pluck nature of humanity will overcome obstacles, which in the film’s case are giant monsters.

José Soto

It’s The End Of The Road For Supernatural

After 15 years, the horror/fantasy TV show Supernatural is finally coming to an end. Not only is it the longest running program on The CW network but the longest running American fantasy show of all time.

Supernatural stars Jason Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who roam mostly Middle America through its backroads and as Hunters battle things that go bump in the night. These inhuman threats range from deadly ghosts to bloodthirsty vampires, werewolves and ghouls, to even Lucifer (often Mark Pelligrino) himself, and now God aka Chuck (Rob Benedict).

When thinking about it, the show is akin to a modern-day Western with a horror/fantasy twist. In fact, series creator Eric Kripke (now working on The Boys) conceived the show as such with the Brothers Winchester playing the role of heroic cowboys who come into a small, remote town, right the wrongs and ride off to their next mission at the episode’s end in their vintage ’67 Impala instead of horses. Originally, Supernatural was supposed to be about two reporters who fought supernatural threats, but Kripke was only able to sell the program by reconceiving the characters as two brothers looking for their lost father. It’s a good thing Kripke did this because who knows if the original concept would have resonated with fans.

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What made Supernatural such a beloved cult hit with its dedicated fans was the easy comraderie and chemistry between the two brothers. Tall and lanky Sam was the more intellectual and sensitive brother while hot-headed Dean was more emotional and intense. More often than not, the two brothers butted heads that usually led to each of them storming off for an episode or two. And all-too-often their fights were based on lies and keeping vital information from each other. However, they shared a fierce familial love and loyalty towards each other.

The Wincester brothers were so much alike with their basic everyman demeanor, yet they were distinctive from one another. Dean jas a sharply, sarcastic wit, and a love of junk food, beer, and classic rock music. Meanwhile, Sam, who gave up his study of law at the start of the series, was more of a hunky dork with a big heart; but he was just as tough as his older brother. Thanks to the solid performance by the actors and their chemistry, the brothers were the heart of Supernatural.

The many characters they met throughout all 15 seasons also became very popular and vital parts of Supernatural whether as scene-stealing guest stars or popular regulars. The ones that stood out most where Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), a gruff, down-to-earth father/uncle figure who helped the Winchesters in their missions; the sarcastic and scheming demonic ruler of hell, Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard), who had a soft spot for the boys; Rowena (Ruth Connell), a centuries-old witch who was always scheming with many tricks up her sleeves; Jack (Alexander Calvert), a naive and well-meaning nephilum, who happened to be the son of Lucifer; and then there is Castiel (Misha Collins), a stoic angel who looks like he’s auditioning to be the next incarnation of Constantine with his rumpled suit and trenchcoat.

Supernatural more or less followed a certain formula, each season had the brothers and their allies confronting a monumental villain that threatened the world or creation. Intersped in between the arc episodes were monster-of-the-week or other standalone episodes. Early episodes focused on monster-of-the-week threats that established the Winchesters with their gruff, but caring relationship.

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Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Horror Films

The many post-apocalyptic horror films are intriguing and terrifying by giving viewers a dreadful glimpse of our potential future. In other words, they’re a fine blend of sci-fi and horror, as well as fantasy and even comedy. Here now are the ten best films in this sub-genre.

10. This is the End (2013)

Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco and Danny McBride play fictional versions of themselves as the world experiences the Rapture then the literal end of the world as demons ravage the planet. The film is actually quite funny and raunchy as the hapless actors do their best to survive the Apocalypse while trying to be worthy enough for salvation.

9. Zombieland (2009)

The how-to guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse is a quirky laugh fest that pokes fun at many zombie and survival tropes. The film is elevated by inspired performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, plus a hysterical appearance by Bill Murray as himself. Warning: despite what Zombieland claims, twinkies do not have that long of a shelf life, which should have disappointed Harrelson’s Tallahassee.

8. Stake Land (2010)

Taking place years after vampires have devastated civilization, this quiet and poignant road movie is very moving as it focuses on the journey of a sensitive young man (Connor Paolo) and his mentor, the tough-as-nails vampire killer known only as Mister (Nick Damici). Their ongoing struggle against the vampire hordes and the people they meet in their journey highlight this film.

7. Carriers (2009)

A pre-Star Trek Chris Pine leads the cast in this horror survival film about four young people living desperate lives after a virus wipes out most of humanity. Carriers is a brutal and unflinching character study that exposes the worst instincts of humanity and is frightening portent of what might happen to us in a hopeless situation where a disease causes our society to completely collapse.

6.  I Am Legend (2007)

The third adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic novel is a flawed yet exciting examination of a lone human (Will Smith) and his dog after a virus turns most of humanity into savage mutant creatures. Smith’s performance and the production design are some of the best aspects of this version of I Am Legend; the landscape of New York City after nature reclaimed it are just stunning to watch. Although many have decried the film’s ending because it deviated so wildly from Matheson’s message, there is an alternate ending that is more faithful to the spirt of the novel. 

5. The Mist (2007)

This bleak and harsh adaptation of Stephen King’s novella puts viewers through an emotional wringer. Thomas Jane stars as an artist who is trapped with his young son and several shoppers in a supermarket after a mysterious mist engulfs their town and brings deadly and bloodthirsty creatures. Even deadlier than the monstrosities in The Mist are the trapped people themselves as they allow fear to overwhelm their sense of decency and common sense. The ending of The Mist differs greatly from King’s story but in this case actually outdid what Stephen King wrote and is a genuine and agonizing gut punch.

4. A Quiet Place (2018)

John Krasinski and his wife Emily Blunt star in this post-apocalyptic horror film where civilization has been destroyed by nearly invulnerable alien predators that hunt by sound. Forced to live a life of near silence with their children, the couple do their best to survive their new normal and stay ahead of the alien creatures.  A Quiet Place is a film that oozes with tension and fear as we see this fragile and resilient family doing their best not to make sounds even in their own homes. Additionally, the film is beautifully directed by Krasinski who wisely keeps the focus of the story on the characters themselves, which pays off since viewers are engaged with the characters’ plight.

 

3. 28 Days Later (2003)

Director Danny Boyle reinvigorated the zombie genre with an ingenious twist. The zombies, actually infected and mindless humans, run! After a pre-credits sequence shows how an engineered virus is released from a lab, 28 Days Later jumps ahead and takes viewers through the journey of Jim (Cillian Murphy) a messenger who wakes up from a coma and finds himself in a mysteriously abandoned London. Before long he discovers that the city has been overrun by the savage infected who spread the deadly virus through a bite or a single drop of blood. During his voyage to find sanctuary with a group of survivors, Jim struggles to adapt to his new normal while holding onto his sense of humanity. The sequel 28 Weeks Later is not as good as the original film but further examines this frightening world. 

2. Threads (1984)

The most terrifying look at nuclear war since the American television film, The Day After. Threads takes thing much further than The Day After with a gritty, documentary tone. Taking place in London during the 1980s, the film bombards us with horrifying imagery and events which illustrate how fragile society is following a devastating nuclear war that levels the city and all of civilization. Threads leaves a disturbing impression on viewers with its depiction of a brutal and barbaric life after a nuclear holocaust. Before long, viewers will realize the luckiest persons in the film were those that perished in the opening salvo of World War III as the survivors are faced with a crumbling societal infrastructure where chaos overtakes law and order and humanity. 

1. Dawn of the Dead (1979)

Possibly the greatest zombie film ever made. George Romero’s sequel to his classic Night of the Living Dead takes place some time after the original. The zombies are gradually disrupting society as they feast on humans. Before long civilization collapses and the film follows the plight of a group of survivors who take refuge in an abandoned mall and keep the undead outside at bay. Dawn of the Dead is partly a thrilling survival film and partly a humorous commentary on society through the scenes of zombies clumsily acting out their past living lives in the mall). The film was a revolutionary and controversial post-apocalpytic horror film thanks to its uncensored and unflinching violence. Nevertheless, the film is a horror classic and the best post-apocalyptic horror film of all time. 

Notable Mentions: 28 Weeks Later, Bird Box, The Day, Day of the Triffids, Daybreakers, Hardware, It Comes At Night, Legion, The Night Eats the World, The World’s End, Zombieland: Double Tap

 

Science Fiction & Horror: The Perfect Combination

Science fiction and horror have blended well together like peanut butter and chocolate for a long time. One of the earliest examples is Mary Shelley’s classic literary work Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus and the melding continues to this day with assorted books, films, comic books, games and other media. Some of the standouts include the Alien films, I Am Legend, The Tommyknockers, the Predator films, Resident Evil, Event Horizon, The Fly, Dead Space, 28 Days Later, A Quiet Place, The Thing (and its source novel Who Goes There?), etc.

Why have the two genres been able to be combine so perfectly? That is to be debated since there are so many reasons and it may not be clear to many. But it can arguably be due for one factor and that is that the genre combo zeroes in to the fear of the unknown. Think about it, what makes horror so tantalizing is that it addresses what we’re afraid of, and that is ultimately death because it is the great unknown. What lies beyond death? Is it truly the end or the pathway to something truly horrific? Science fiction works have dealt with the nature of death and what it entails. As mentioned before, Frankenstein was all about defeating death and the horror of achieving this as Dr. Frankenstein found a way to bring the dead back to life through scientific means rather than using the supernatural.

Obviously it is the use of science or its grounded setting that sets science fiction horror separate from regular horror. And it is why it can be more unsettling…

With the regular horror genre, anyone experiencing it can take some small comfort with the idea in the back of the head that the horror story is implausible. There isn’t any way that a dead corpse will come back to life and start eating you, and despite all the so-called reality ghost hunting TV shows, the existence of spiritual entities still has not been scientifically proven. With films like The Thing, Alien or A Quiet Place, what makes them so terrifying is that we can encounter extra-terrestrial life that means us harm. Science experiments, research and discoveries that should benefit humanity can lead to disastrous results as seen in The Fly, Nightflyers, Event Horizon, Demon Seed, Blindsight, and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Then there is the sub-genre in science fiction and horror of humanity grappling with devastating diseases that falls into horror. Some like The Andromeda Strain are clear cut stories where diseases outright decimates us, but other works uses diseases to bring about body horror tales or create tenuously plausible zombie yarns. Examples include The Fireman, Black Hole, 28 Days Later, Cross, I Am Legend, and the Resident Evil franchise. Of course, saying that the events shown in these works are plausible is stretching things and as with any fictional work requires suspension of belief. But when the stories work and terrify us, they work quite well to the point that our rational brains stop questioning and start reacting to the horror of these stories.

Another thing to consider about how well the two genres blend so well is that the stories are often contemporary or take place in the future. These settings also lend to the feeling that what happens in them are possible. We don’t know that the first alien life we will encounter in the future will try to eat us or that using FTL will open a gateway to a hellish dimension. We cannot say for certain that these horrific events will happen.

What is even more unsettling is that what will actually occur in the future or just a few minutes from now can be far worse than what our puny minds can imagine. It all feeds into fear of the unknown and is why science fiction and horror are the perfect combination for storytelling.

 

All Hail Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

Despite what many critics are blaring, the latest American Godzilla film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is quite enjoyable. There are issues with the film, which is part of Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse cinematic universe, and I was hoping we would have gotten the definitive Godzilla film from Hollywood. That goal still evades us, but this film is a solid B, which is kind of appropriate given this can be considered a B-film even though Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a blockbuster event film.

The film’s plot is not complicated. A bunch of giant monsters are awakened from their prehistoric slumber; these include the famous kaijus Rodan, Mothra and the big baddie himself Ghidorah. These monsters start vying for the top spot as the apex Titan and joining this conflict is humanity’s most unexpected hope: the king himself, Godzilla.

To be clear, this film is a continuation of the Garth Edwards Godzilla released in 2014. The events from that film are mentioned here with a couple of characters returning, though this film focuses on a largely new cast. Godzilla was an enjoyable reboot of the Hollywood version of Godzilla and comparing the two, I’d have to say I prefer Godzilla: King of the Monsters because of all the epic kaiju battles. The monster scenes are the film’s best parts, they’re just amazing and beautifully choreographed. Their scale is simply jawdropping. The special effects are topnotch and the super powerful fight scenes are meant to be seen on the big screen!  Even compared to the Japanese versions, this film has the best Godzilla fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Godzilla: King of the Monsters also does an interesting job of showing the monsters’ place in world history and expands upon the mythology shown in the previous two films of the Monsterverse, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island.

Believe it or not, the scenes with the humans are well done for the most part except for a flaw I’ll get to. The actors like Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown turn in fine performances that are not one-note like in Godzilla. The first Monsterverse film was hobbled with forgettable actors except for Bryan Cranston and he was not around too long in Godzilla. The big issue with the humans in this sequel, which bogs the film is that the humor falls flat most of the time. It feels forced and annoying. We came to see the film for giant monsters not bad attempts at comedy. Another problem with the film is that it lacks a suspension of disbelief. There a many scenes where the characters are right in the middle of intense monster action or are interacting directly with the kaiju and nothing happens to them, even though there is debris flying all around them. In previous kaiju films, the humans were always far away from the action and it was believable that they did not get hurt. But here, they’re right in the middle of the action and nothing happens to them. Sorry, but this is unbelievable and took me out of the film.

Putting the gripes about the film aside, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an enjoyable blockbuster. It has its issues and deserved to be better but it is what it is, a big romp of a kaiju movie. While not as great as other cinematic universes, the Monsterverse is delivering consistently entertaining films and hopefully next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong will up the ante and be an improvement.

Walter L. Stevenson