Friday, September 3, 2010

WorldCon 2010 : E.T. has a chainsaw: When science fiction and horror collide

I must stress, these notes were typing up in real-time, while the panel was happening, so if I've misquoted someone, I'm terribly sorry.  I'll come back at the end of next week and fix up all the typos and whatnot, but, in the meantime, please enjoy these carefully-recorded hour-shortened summaries.  I've tried to maintain some of the personality of each of the panellists so, again, please forgive any idiosyncrasies, and if I've recorded any references to books, films, short stories, people or games incorrectly, that is entirely my fault, not the fault of the panellist I'm quoting.

Here is the programme description for E.T. has a chainsaw: When science fiction and horror collide :

"At the crossroads between science fiction and horror there is a familiar formula at work: a group of humans trapped in a claustrophobic environment - a spaceship, a space station, a distant colony - and being hunted down one by one by some inhuman and utterly terrifying monster. From Alien and The Thing to Event Horizon, Resident Evil and most recently Cargo and Pandorum (both screening at the convention), we investigate the origins of this popular sub-genre of cinema, why it works, and which films of its type work the best.
Bob Eggleton, Christian Sauvé, Foz Meadows"

To be honest, this panel was quite fragmented in its approach, so I found much of it difficult to get down on virtual paper, and I didn't know the names of many of the more obscure movies that were being quoted, so I omitted them where I had no possibility of recollecting them in the slightest.  I was about 5 minutes late to this panel.

C: Event Horizon is essentially being trapped in a cathedral and unable to get out.

B: Galaxy of Terror, James Cameron did art direction on it in 1981.

F: Hell is very much yourself.

C: Hell is yourself imagining other people.

F: A movie that really does this for me is Sunshine.  Every character in the film who keeps the faith or dies in a manner of self-sacrifice, and everyone who dies in a selfish way dies in the dark.  The only one who doesn’t die in this way in the only person who wasn’t obsessed with that dichotomy, and he died in a way that was important to him.

B: There was a whole idea of sun worship, they would go in and watch the sun through the viewscreen, and just watch it.

F: I didn’t get that, the ship was called the Icarus, and of course that’s the boy who flew too close to the sun, so I saw it as more of a cautionary tale. 

C: I had a problem with Sunshine, in that it tried to be hard sci-fi and it really wasn’t.

F: It was a bit more mystical than that.

C: Yeah, and they try so hard to be the best hard sci-fi movie in years, and you just start poking holes in it, it’s so sad.

F: What about films like Red Planet?  It’s not just being trapped in a space, these kind of films are very much about getting out of the space, and I see that translating very easily into a videogame, because you have these level that they have to get through.

C: It’s already a very popular idea in video games, things like the original Doom, or System Shock and Dead Space.

B: Another really popular idea is the virus movie, which is something that I Am Legend borrowed a little bit too much from 28 Days Later, and it’s this idea that you could get infected by this virus, and it’s terrifying, there’s nothing you can do.

F: The idea of the virus is very interesting, because you tend to take civilization with you wherever you go, and it’s the idea that if some of the people that you know, some of those links are destroyed, that’s a destruction that can travel back down along the line, and what effect will it have on civilization? 

F: Side note here talking about Joss Whedon’s Firefly and the Reavers, it’s quite interesting because he’d originally handed in a script for Alien Resurrection, and there’s a strange note running through that film if you watch it again after having seen Firefly, and you can kind of see the characters in the background of what it ended up being.

C: If you take a look at a cast for a spaceship of characters, they can become quite low budget, because you’ve only got a set number of characters, possibly flashbacks…

F: And you keep killing them off, so you really only need a bunch of extras who can die in a fire and a couple of actual actors.

C: Right, and the Jason movies are really what ties it together for me, because they’re all about this idyllic world where the characters exist, then slowly killing them off until you’re left with just the protagonist, and that’s really what it’s about.

C: There’s no horror franchise that doesn’t make it into space.  There’s Leprechaun in Space.  I’m kind of waiting for Saw 8 to be in space.  But going back to the 1980s, there were a whole bunch of horror movies set underwater, like the Abyss, Leviathan, Sphere, Deep Blue Sea…

F: There’s kind of this Doctor Who trope that keeps re-running, there’s an episode called the Plant of Evil, and it always seems to be that the Doctor jut bumbles into this situation, and half of the crew is going to think he’s the one causing all the trouble, and the other half of the crew are going to go “No! The guy in the scarf with the jellybabies is clearly on our side!” and he’ll get locked up at some point and his assistant will find out the truth and then everything will be fine, but it’s always in this enclosed spaces.

C: Sometimes the threat is more effective than actually seeing the violence, such as in a low-budget, little-known Canadian film called Cube.  It’s a one-set piece where the people go crazy in the enclosed space and end up killing each other.

B: The thing about the monster reveal is a good point, because the tension can go on for a long time, and that tension can be fun of itself… Really Alien got it’s idea from It, the terror from beyond space, and really the horror in that came from the fact that the guy they got the suit for didn’t quite fit it, so his chin sticks out the bottom, and you only ever see bits of it, eyes now, claws then, and never the whole monster.  There’s a clunker in the form of a movie called Die Monster Die which is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, and it’s great up until the monster reveal is just a silver Frankenstein with big ears, and it completely doesn’t work.

B: There’s a great Japanese film called Matango, released in America as Attack of the Mushroom, where they get trapped on this island and they have to eat these mushrooms, and start turning into these mushroom creatures.  Up until the time when they turned into these kind of rubber-suited mushroom men, there were some moments of real terror in there.  There’s another one called Gokei (Goke bodysnatcher from hell) where a plane crashes and, if they’d gone this way, they would have run into civilization, but they went that way, and there’s no civilization, and this UFO crashes and this kind of brain worm gets inside people’s heads and you get into ideas of greed and sacrifice that are really quite meaningful, and these are films from the 60s.

C: One of the problems I find with the cross between science-fiction and horror is that science-fiction wants to describe, and horror kind of says “Eh, that’s not important.”

F: That’s true, it’s like when the axe murderer appears, you don’t need to know his whole life story as he’s charging after the main character.  There’s an effect in Pitch Black that really works well, I call it the evil strobe, because it will inevitably go out at a crucial moment and flash back on for a glimpse of something horrifying, like in Event Horizon when we see his dead wife next to him.

B: One of the things that happened in the Alien movie was when the big reveal came along and it’s supposed to be terrifying, but people were saying “Why does it have to look like a human?” and that’s part of the horror, it was born from a human, so it looks like a human.

F: We do seem to have some fascination with humanity gone wrong, and I remember watching Alien Resurrection, when she’s got that brand on her arm and she goes into the lab to see the previous examples of her that they’ve tried to create, and there’s this huge white deformed version of herself that begs her to kill it, and as a child, that was really horrifying.

C: A movie that worked very well was Silent Hill, because it maintained the visual feel of the game and translated it into a movie.

F: One movie that I think would make a great game is Cloverfield.  Part of the irony is that the girl the camera user has a crush on, he convinces her to go with them, and if he hadn’t maybe she would have lived, but it reminds me of a video games, because there’s the big boss, and then all these scurrying little enemies, and that reminds me of the beginning of Final Fantasy 10, where the monster is dropping those pods into the city and all the monsters are scurrying out.

C: Quarantine is based on a Spanish movie called Wreck.  Watch them back-to-back, there are some interesting deviations.

C: If you dig deep enough in hard sci-fi, it’s essentially existentialist, and you have the horror of the fact that the universe doesn’t care, and I’m still waiting for a film to do that.

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