Archive for May, 2012


Lots and lots of stuff, in an updated list provided for those who want to go straight to the goodies! Approaching 30 “Remake Chronicles” Essays alone, with more to come!

Remake Chronicles Essays

TRUE GRIT: The Movie Star Versus The Actor

Matinee On the Bounty: Or, That’s Not Very Christian

Wielding Prop Spears Against Real Wolves: The Two Versions of TO BE OR NOT TO BE

Three Mutes, Three Mad Sculptors, One Paddle-Ball Man and Three Houses of Wax

One Pothole Away From Death: Two Versions of THE WAGES OF FEAR

The Two Troubled Commutes Of Ted Stryker

Counting the Chips at CASINO ROYALE

PSYCHO: A Remake That Was Just Plain Crazy

Remakes For Shmucks: Two Versions of THE DINNER GAME

Yeah, That Remake’s All Messed Up: Three Versions of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

Murders Gone Messy: Two Versions of BLOOD SIMPLE

Three Upside-Down Ships: God And THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE

When Your Baby Has A Baby: The Father Of the Bride Movies

Four Deadbeat Dads: The Questionable Parenting Skills of the Doctors Frankenstein

Twenty-Four Angry Men

Just Get Me To The Church Alive: Two Versions of SEVEN CHANCES

Seymour Krelboyne’s Two Shifts at THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

When CAPTAIN AMERICA Blows His Mighty Chunks

Monkey See, Monkey Two: CONQUEST and RISE of THE PLANET OF THE APES

Twenty Two Musketeers (Part One): The Ritzes Putting On You

Twenty Two MUSKETEERS (Part Two): Wherefore Art Thou, Definitive?

THE MALTESE FALCON and The Stuff That Dreams Aren’t Made Of

Two Visits to Willy Wonka’s CHOCOLATE FACTORY

MR. SMITH and BILLY JACK go to WASHINGTON

Two Dangerous Tattooed Women

FRIGHT NIGHT: The Two Redemptions Of Peter Vincent

SAMURAI, Gunfighters, Starships, Insects, and AMIGOS

The Two Men Who KNEW TOO MUCH

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Weird

Assorted Other Film Essays

The Fattening Of APOCALYPSE NOW

The “Fraser”

CITY HEAT

Remake These!

Scenes That Shouldn’t Let the Door Kick Them In the Ass On the Way Out # 1: The Computer Virus

The Problem With THE NEXT THREE DAYS

Remake This #2

Great Moments In Miscasting # 1

When Sequels Fail #1: ENSIGN PULVER

Saying The Right Thing

On Taking Your Kids To The Movies

My Favorite Piece of Movie Trivia Ever. Ever.

How To Avoid Assholes At The Movies

Old Rose (from James Cameron’s TITANIC) was Stupid and Evil

Cosmic Lameness

More Cosmic Lameness: SARAH LANDON

Something I Felt I Just Had To Rant About

Questions About CASABLANCA

MILK vs. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

 DOWNFALL

Great-Ish Movies: RUNAWAY TRAIN

There’s No Need To Atone

The Problem With THE RIVER

Don’t Mess With THE QUEEN

 An Awful Clunk: Sidney Poitier and Bobby Darin in PRESSURE POINT

Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN

What’s Wrong With THE TOURIST

Another Frozen Cow: THE RARE BREED

RESURRECT DEAD?

VAN HELSING

MacKENNA’S GOLD

 

Fiction
“Curse of the Phlegmpire,” by Adam-Troy Castro

“After the Zombies Passed,” by Judi B. Castro and Chris Negelein

Assorted Cool Other Stuff

Ten Reasons

They Actually Exist (My encounter with two very familiar characters)

The Man Who Didn’t Lie To The Cops 

“I Just Sold A Novel!”

“A Cure For The Blues,” by Mark Twain At Last! The Batman and Robin Murder Mystery — Solved!

Morty: A Memoir

Way To Go…Morons!

Secret Sequels

On Saying “No” To Learned Eminences


First Review by Adam-Troy Castro

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (original title: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo; 1966). Directed by Sergio Leone. Screenplay by Age and Scarpelli, Sergio Leone, and Luciano Vincenzoni. Starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef; also Luigi Pistilli. 177 minutes. *** 1/2.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (original title: Joheun nom nabbeun nom isanghan nom; 2008). Directed by Kim Ji-Woon. Screenplay by Kim Ji-Woon and Kim Ji-Suk. Starring Song Kang-Ho, Lee Byung-Hun, Jung Woo-Sung. 139 minutes. ***

This much needs to be said.

To cover these two films together, we stretched the definition of “Remake” almost to be the breaking point. There is no legal connection between them, no shared source material that inspired both. They have completely different stories and even completely different tones, though the Korean film borrows its title, the power dynamic between its three main characters, and even much of the staging of the final showdown from the original, and would likely not exist were it not for the creative urge to evoke the Italian-American one; it is a tribute, certainly, but is it remake?

We err on the side of yes. After all, these aren’t the first two films linked conceptually, but – at least at some point during production — not legally. Some examples: despite a changed title, changed character names, and different vampire lore, the vampire film Nosferatu was such a de facto attempt to film Dracula that Florence Stoker successfully sued the makers for plagiarism. Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars was such a clear remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo that legal threats earned Toho studios a nice hunk of change and an official acknowledgment in the credits of the later film. We covered the many ways that the seriously-intended Zero Hour was aped for the parody film Airplane!, but the makers of the latter were new at the business and originally thought they could make their spoof without paying the owners of the Zero Hour copyright a dime – a misapprehension for which they soon learned they would have to make good. So it is for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and The Good, The Bad, The Weird. The connection is so clear that it’s visible to the naked eye. We will call it a Remake and sort out the bodies later.

Each film involves a trio of dangerous men, living in dangerous, war-torn times, who find themselves embroiled in a quest to track down and claim a fabulous treasure. Each trio includes as its viewpoint character (“The Ugly” or “The Weird”), an unkempt, accident-prone clown of dubious morality, who kills at the drop of a hat but is so cruelly treated by fate and the other two that the audience cannot help forgiving him his sins. Both place him in uneasy partnership with a professional bounty hunter (“The Good”), the closest thing to an actual hero either of these movies offer, who kills just as easily and is frankly not much more virtuous, but from time to time betrays enough additional humanity that his various abuses of the clown figure emerge as increasingly funny. Both place these two in contention with a professional killer (“The Ugly”), who is charming, dapper, and in some ineffable way that could only make sense in this amoral universe more hissably evil than either of the others. Both films take pains to set the treasure hunt against the fate of nations; and both end with the all three, the last left alive at the site of the booty they have killed so many others to find, each betting everything on a three-way quick-draw duel fought on a circular playing field. They’re both brutal, funny, operatic in scale, driven at times by masterful use of soundtrack music, and more fun than any ten other movies, but the stories they tell are otherwise so very different that it’s possible to watch both films for the first time, one after the other, note the resonance, and not feel either plot spoiled.

the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)

The Clint Eastwood character in this film is often referred to as “The Man With No Name,” as it’s the last and most elaborate of three films marketed in the U.S. under that blanket title. But he really isn’t. His name is Joe. He is also frequently called by the nickname Eli Wallach’s character gives him, Blondie, but his name is Joe. Moreover, internal evidence establishes that he is absolutely not the same man as Eastwood’s character in A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More; he just isn’t, even if moviegoers prefer to believe otherwise. One can only conclude that in the universe of these films, there was an entire ethnic strain of tall, blondish, squinty-eyed and cheroot-chomping men, otherwise unrelated, wandering around uttering catchphrases while shooting people; and that they were slightly more numerous than a similar strain of homicidal gunslingers who looked like the star of two films in this trilogy, Lee Van Cleef. (Eastwood, knowing a good thing when he saw it, later made a couple of subsequent westerns also featuring men with no name, High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider, and, again, moviegoers tend to treat these as de facto sequels, but the fact remains that internal evidence disputes this. The so-called Man With No Name is not just a different character every time he appears, but also not actually a man with no name. Sorry.

The film is set during a mysteriously far-west campaign of the Civil War, at a time when Eastwood’s bounty hunter Blondie has enlisted Wallach’s outlaw Tuco in a deadly con-game; the two travel from town to town, with Tuco as Blondie’s prisoner, so Blondie can collect the reward prior to using his marksmanship skills to scatter the townspeople and free Tuco from the noose, thus earning Tuco an even greater bounty on his head. That there about a dozen serious logical problems with this scenario, including the unlikelihood of Tuco agreeing to it in the first place (if he even knew that this was the deal he was making), or the physical reality that the era’s firearms were simply not even close to accurate enough to ensure that even a prodigy could make such shots consistently, is a small matter; the conceit establishes the film as a kind of myth, a fairy tale if you will, that is not to be taken seriously, thus preparing the audience to be slammed with more brutal realities later on. The relationship sours upon a spectacular, even murderous betrayal by Blondie (justifying a big laugh when he is immediately identified on-screen as “The Good”), making the two men bitter enemies who must subsequently team up when circumstances provide each with half the secret location to a hoard of stolen Confederate gold.

With its prequels, the film provides much of the foundation for Eastwood’s permanent state of super-stardom, but – we have to note – his performance here is little more than a brilliant, instant parody of itself. He squints and growls and projects menace and sometimes suffers and once in a great while smiles, but his character is by design an enigma, somebody whose humanity is hinted at, and revealed in small doses. We don’t have any problem understanding why it contributed to his fame, but it’s still the performance  of an star icon, and not a star actor. Even director Sergio Leone said this, in ungracious contemporary interviews, which for all we know may have contributed to the star and the director never working together again. Eastwood became much more interesting as an actor, and as a well-rounded artist, as he aged. For our money, the film’s true star performance belongs to Eli Wallach, whose Tuco is a profound comic creation: a man utterly devoid of positive qualities, who is nevertheless deeply ingratiating; a man who is not very bright, but nevertheless profoundly cunning; a man who is bullied and mistreated on a regular basis and yet as deadly as a viper; a man who shoots people dead and then compulsively crosses himself afterward, as if that makes it okay. He’s a man who from the evidence available on screen probably smells like the inside of a bowling shoe that somebody has stuffed with fish, whose greedy practicality so completely insulates him from most human concerns that  he looks downright puzzled when Blondie shows disgust at the ravages of war. It is an emotion alien to him.
  
This is not the same thing as saying that he’s not human at all, which is why it’s so great that we get an interlude at the mission run by Tuco’s estranged brother Father Pablo (Luigi Pistilli), the angel to Tuco’s fallen sinner, who has just returned from the funeral of their father and is not at all pleased to see the ne’er-do-well bandit he has not seen for ten years. The story stops completely dead to show us this confrontation, which suddenly invests the film with the first indication that it might have a soul; and it is riveting, especially given that Tuco really does seem to think that he would be greeted with loving arms, and Father Pablo really does clearly wish he’d shown his brother more than contempt, once the time for reconciliation is past. Once this scene is done we know exactly why Tuco is the way he is, and what follows is a splendid return to his version of normalcy, as he boasts that his brother loves him, and his ally-turned-enemy-turned-ally Blondie (who has witnessed the whole thing), refrains from contradicting him. The camera focuses on a tight close-up of Tuco’s face as he processes his hurt, focuses on the quest ahead, and then, improbably, smiles. He has a brother he loves, who has rejected him; and he has a man he hates, who has just shown him a moment of understanding. Here is a relationship he can comprehend. The gold is ahead. He is home.

We cannot stress this enough. The entire Father Pablo scene, and its aftermath, advances the actual narrative not at all. With the movie running as long as it does, it would be the first interlude a modern-day distributor would cut out, the first scene that would make a modern-day test audience squirm with discomfort. (And we can not stress this enough, either:  fuck test audiences.) But it serves the story. It lets us know exactly who this scuzzy little bandit is.  Eastwood’s Blondie, designed as an enigma, doesn’t get anything nearly as revelatory, unless you count the powerful moment late in the film where he makes a point of comforting a mortally-wounded Confederate (another that would not survive a modern-day cut). There are others, before and after, playing the brutal search for bounty against a sweeping backdrop of the horrors of war; a not-exactly historically-accurate backdrop, but nevertheless one that makes everything around it play on an epic level.

So the movie can be credited with having a soul, if not consistent logic. This viewer always cringes at the scene where Blondie and Tuco discuss the river up ahead, are captured by Union soldiers, and brought to a major military encampment that they somehow failed to detect even though it was literally only about five steps ahead of them. I also wonder how come Tuco’s escape from a train goes unnoticed by a flatcar covered with soldiers, in plain sight and in broad daylight; and how come, in the aftermath of a major battle, new recruits Blondie and Tuco are conveniently left behind in their sleep, when everybody else bugs out without waking them. (Gee. That was convenient.)

The logical questions are unimportant, though, next to the sheer narrative verve, Leone’s trademark huge and oddly beautiful unflattering closeups of sweaty and unshaven men, set design that accentuates the ugliness and the primitiveness of the outposts of civilization the three antagonists travel, and the series of reversals, hair’s-breadth escapes, and unlikely acts of gunplay that make this one of the best tall tales in the genre’s history. Leone was a master of the intensely slow scene that reeked of impending violence, that focused on the terrified faces of desperate men who knew that they were about to be killed; and such scenes are compelling when they arrive at the rate of one or two per film, but can sometimes run afoul of the law of diminishing returns when they come too many times per film. It is for precisely this reason that, while Leone’s followup, Once Upon A Time In The West, is likely a far better film, it still can’t match this one for sheer entertainment value.

And then there’s the music.

Oh, the music.

Ennio Morricone’s most famous movie score is a remarkably memorable and powerful series of orchestral pieces that somehow synergizes with all of the movie’s great set-pieces to create a kind of magic. I’m not even counting the main title music, which becomes Blondie’s theme and provides us with that ridiculously addictive refrain whenever Eastwood does something particularly cool: doody-oodie-ooh. Waa-waa-waa. That is admittedly great stuff, one of the best movie themes of all time, one so inherently terrific that it’s been covered in every style from heavy metal to ukelele:

No, I’m talking about such compositions as “The Ecstacy of Gold,” which here illustrates Tuco’s frantic race through a military cemetery for the one grave which contains a fortune.

It is one of the most purely movie moments the film possesses, an absolute wonderment, and the best thing I can say about it is that, as good as it is, it is followed by an interval that is even better: the three-way gun duel between the titular three.

It is hard to imagine how any remake, even an uncredited one, could possibly provide us with as compelling a mixture of music and image.

Except that 42 years later, the climax of the next film in our discussion came pretty damn close.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

Kim Ji-Woon’s version of the tale is about half an hour shorter, and more dominated by action setpieces; though it retains a historical subtext, relevant to Korea, it nevertheless leaves out almost all (but not quite all) sense of historical tragedy and almost all (but not quite all) depth of character, satisfied to dazzle the eyes and set the heart to racing. It is a much shallower piece of work, as well a far more lighthearted one. It achieves what greatness it has by sheer audacity.
 
It is an “Eastern,” which is to say that it translates the western tropes of the original to an equivalent period in Korean history: here, the no-man’s-land of the Manchurian desert in the early 1930s, after Korea’s been occupied by the Japanese and the cast of desperate gunfighters has migrated to that lawless frontier, where they can live out of the outskirts of civilization. Dialogue late in the film evokes the heartbreak of having one’s country occupied, and the treasure that provides the narrative its McGuffin will turn out to be a very modern resource with important implications for the military future of the region, but these concerns are not central to the tone of the film, as they are in Ugly; they are invoked to provide context, and to provide yet another heavily-armed set of antagonists, but viewers will find little here to match Tuco’s confrontation with Father Pablo, or the heartbroken band playing ballads to cover the beating of prisoners of war. The movie simply doesn’t have much on its mind, beyond kinetic thrills.

But what thrills! Take this opening scene – the second after a brief expository scene we can safely ignore in order to make this point. I don’t know about you, but the second the hawk does what it does, I turned toward my seat companion and declared, “This movie has me at hello.” And so it did.

The three main characters are designed to provide the very same dynamic as the one established by the leads of the 1966 film. To wit: the viewpoint character is Yoon Tae-Go, an unkempt, unwashed, amiable but deadly outlaw, widely regarded an idiot but possessed of his own brand of cunning; a man who nothing ever seems to work out for (Yoon Tae-Go, “The Weird”; played by versatile actor Song Kang-Ho, who even possesses the approximate body type that Eli Wallach did in 1966).  (Kang-Ho has given terrific performances in other Korean movies worth checking out, which include the vampire movie Thirst and  the police procedural Memories of Murder;  you could honestly do worse than check out those two minor masterpieces, as well as this one, right now). To counter him, there’s  Park Do-Won (“The Good,” played by Jung Wo-Sung), an almost supernaturally gifted gunfighter and bounty hunter who for most of the film disavows all interest in the treasure; and Park Chang-Yi (“The Bad,” played by Lee Byung-Hun), a man who seems to kill for the sheer point of killing, as well as the acquisition of treasure. The chemistry between these three is very precisely modeled on the one between Wallach, Van Cleef and Eastwood, down to our affection for Tae-Go and the grim lack of concern for his well-being shown by the nominal “Good.” It is, again, not as deeply realized a relationship as that in the 1966 film, but it scarcely matters, as the movie’s true intent is providing us with one over-the-top action scene after another, and in fiendishly arranging for all the parties intent on intercepting Tae-Go on his way to the treasure, a number that encompasses among others desert tribesmen, hired killers and the freaking Japanese Army, to all converge at the same point, a raucous chase and battle across the Manchurian desert.

And here, all critical standards prove irrelevant. Never mind the fallacy of the shotgun with infinite ammunition or that of the army that cannot outshoot a lone man. This is simply one of the very coolest chase scenes in movie history. It is on a par with the climactic battle of Stagecoach, the climactic battle of The Road Warrior, and the truck chase in Raiders Of The Lost Ark; moreover, the melding of the score by Dalparan and Jang Yeong-Gyu and the highly unlikely but intensely cool sequence where Park Do-Won takes on vastly superior forces in a solo ride to the rescue, is pure action-movie orgasm. I dunno about you, but I could honestly watch this scene ten times in a row and still want to see more.

It all culminates in another three-way gunfight, which ends substantially differently, with all three leads apparently killing one another (though an unpersuasive coda insists, against all odds, that the two we want to survive not only did survive but also made it back to civilization and resumed their old habits). I don’t entirely buy it myself. But the movie has me at goodbye, as well.

 The Treasure, Found

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: a superior adventure film, filled with classic set-pieces, and passages of genuine feeling, marred by some woeful logical gaps; The Good, The Bad, The Weird: not quite the sum of its parts, let alone more than the sum of its parts, but a kinetic wonderment, the kind of movie action fans will want to see again and again.

And now, the wife narrows her flinty gaze, while a mournful chorus goes “Waa-waa” in the background….

*

Second Commentary by Judi B. Castro

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (original title: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo; 1966). Directed by Sergio Leone. Screenplay by Age and Scarpelli, Sergio Leone, and Luciano Vincenzoni. Starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef; also Luigi Pistilli. 177 minutes. ***

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (original title: Joheun nom nabbeun nom isanghan nom; 2008). Directed by Kim Ji-Woon. Screenplay by Kim Ji-Woon and Kim Ji-Suk. Starring Song Kang-Ho, Lee Byung-Hun, Jung Woo-Sung. 139 minutes. *1/2

As I may have said before, I’m no great fan of the western genre.  Not thrilled by cowboys and injuns, seeing horses abused and maimed doesn’t set my heart astir. Don’t care if the stagecoach got robbed.  All I want is a good story, told well.

Now, we are presented with a Western made in Italy and an Eastern made in Korea. 

Neither one is unwatchable or gives me the twitches, but neither one tells me a really good tale.

The Weird focuses on murdering thieves who happen to realize that they have a map that everyone wants. They is an intricate dance of who’s actually after who and a few good fights, but I had a tough time following the so-called plot.  If it hadn’t been for this column, I would have abandoned it way before the climactic chase.  Now is it a chase that can elevate this film into even an extra 1/2*? NO!  It was overblown and ridiculous.  One man can not do what this schmo was supposed to do.  I couldn’t suspend belief, because I had no feelings for the characters.  No suspension, no fun.

Now the “classic” Italian Western that saved a genre has a bit more going for it than the Korean remake, but not by all that much.

I could believe that the “good” is actually a vicious, money grubbing, murderous (when needed) thief.  But what makes him any better than the other two?  They are all low life scum trying to scratch out a dishonest living on the fringes of the Civil war.   And being a great shot with a rifle does not immediately translate to being an incredible pistol man too. 

In this classic film we have a few of my least favorite tropes.  If an extra is shot, he dies quickly.  If a star or plot point is shot, he not only dies slowly, but with enough clarity to pass on his secrets.  Oh and speaking of shooting…If a man on a roof or at a window takes a steady bead on our hero, he misses, but is shot  dead from a hastily drawn hip gun after a spin around and no sighting at all.  And most of all, the star must win and the evil must suffer.  So so so…..painful.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was one of those films that formed my dislike of westerns.  Not all of the films in the genre have generated my disdain. There are many fine tales and character studies set in the rugged west.  But this and its counterparts have permanently left a sour dusty film in my mouth.


A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

The name of the story is “The Last Straw.” It is not one of my more famous stories. It is certainly not one of the more successful. I wrote it twenty years ago, spent years trying to sell it, and ultimately sold it to a newspaper’s fiction supplement.

To tell you the advice I didn’t take, and why I’m still glad I didn’t,  I need to quickly summarize the story.

It’s the frenetically-told story of young single mother Janet Watson, who here suffers one of the worst Mondays of her life. She has troubles getting the four-year-old ready for the Day Care Center, troubles with the oncoming Period From Hell, troubles in traffic on the way to the Day Care Center, troubles with the snotty lady at the Day Care Center, troubles getting in touch with the oaf of an ex-husband who should have sent the tuition check; troubles at work with the company stooge who clocks her in at ten minutes past nine, troubles with the boss, troubles all morning with nasty customers; troubles with HR, which has just summarily canceled the vacation about to begin; troubles during her lunch hour with the Dentist, who delivers grave news about her periodontal health; a traffic ticket on the way back to work; more troubles with the boss; more troubles with asshole co-workers, more troubles on the phone with the ex-husband who continues to dodge her; a last chewing-out by the boss; complaints from the Day Care Center about aggravating problems with her kid’s behavior. I mean, a Day from Hell.

Throughout all this, she keeps encountering news updates about her municipality’s latest serial killer du jour, a baby-faced, round-cheeked guy whose sketch is inescapable on local news and the front page of local papers, Mama’s Boy. Mama’s Boy goes after young mothers raising young children by themselves. He has killed six in the past three months. Janet does not go two hours, throughout this long and horrific day, without encountering a fresh reference to this guy, but let’s face it; for her, on this particular Monday, it’s background noise.

So we get to the final scene. Janet arrives home with three grocery bags and a squalling toddler, and is sticking her key in the apartment door when the bags break all over the hallway linoleum. Freaking, she runs into the house, dumps the kid in the playpen, runs back out to the hallway, fights off the neighbors big stupid great dane who thinks that this bounty has all be laid out for him, runs in with gooey dripping packages to drop them in the sink, runs back out to get more of the food, makes four trips between the hallway and the sink while her kid screams in the next room, and takes her last trip just in time to hear the message come through on her answering machine that her beloved Uncle Leo has died and that the funeral is tomorrow.

She is literally spinning in emotional overload when she spots the baby-faced, round-cheeked guy standing behind the couch with the butcher knife in his hand. She realizes that he is not emerging from hiding. He has been standing there, in plain sight, all along. She actually did see him all four times she passed through the room, but was too frazzled to actually REGISTER what she saw. It is, of course, Mama’s Boy, here to kill her next.

He comes after her.

I remember the end of the story, verbatim.

”He did not even manage two steps before Janet’s voice shook the entire building like the wrath of God.

”DON’T. EVEN. THINK. IT. BUDDY.”

”Mama’s Boy looked in her eyes and saw his own immediate future written there. It was not pretty. Not pretty at all.

”He almost made it to the window before she brought him down.

”(Two line-break).

”Starting Tuesday morning, when news of his condition hit the papers, everybody started being very, very nice to her.”

THE END.

Okay, so there you have it. A nice three-thousand word story with, I believe, a strong punch line. And when I had trouble selling it, I went to my friend, the then-bestselling horror writer, to ask him if he could discern what was wrong with it.

He told me that the ending sucked.

He told me that the beginning was okay, even if I put in too many of the aggravating frustrations that made up Janet’s day. He said that I needed to add about three thousand additional words, about the battle for survival that ranges throughout the three rooms of Janet’s apartment, where the killer keeps coming after her and she keeps fighting back with the tools on hand, determined to keep the maniac from her daughter. He said that she should be wounded and keep fighting anyway, come close to death and keep fighting anyway. He said that she should finally win, at horrible cost,driving herself to an act of incredible, vividly-detailed savagery as she ends the guy in some ruthless and bloody manner. There should be the lingering impression being that she would never, ever be the same. He offered to suggest ways to make Janet’s battle for life a grueling ordeal.

I listened to all this and said, “Aren’t there other stories like this? I’m not saying I’ll never write a conventional woman in jeopardy vs. crazed killer story, but it wouldn’t be THIS story; it wouldn’t be the story of a serial killer who attacks the wrong woman at precisely the wrong moment.”

He said that there was a reason why that kind of story was popular, and built careers. He said that if I wanted I could make a novel of it. Maybe the serial killer takes the baby and Janet has to go after him, on her own, to save the child. That could last hundreds of pages, and indeed has; see, for instance, McCammon’s very suspenseful MINE. Why, I could…

”But,” I interrupted, “then it wouldn’t be THIS story. I’m sorry. The ending is non-negotiable.”

The bestselling horror writer shrugged and said that I clearly couldn’t take constructive criticism. I think I can, and have. I also think he completely missed the point of what I was going for, in this particular instance. The story is by standard commercial measurements a  failure, but is a nice little artifact that I’m proud of; it’s certainly not a clone of every other story of its kind, but its own separate creature, something that could have only come from me at that particular moment. There were critical successes in my future. I don’t love this story any less, and I believe I showed substantial good sense in protecting it.

This has been an object lesson in the importance of occasionally saying No to story advice from learned eminences.

Thus endeth the lesson.


The long wait is over! As of today, all three Andrea Cort novels, including EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD, THE THIRD CLAW OF GOD, and the long-unavailable-in-English WAR OF THE MARIONETTES, can all be found on Audible.Com, beautifully performed by Kathe Mazur. Enjoy! Tell your friends! Pant uncontrollably!

http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_3?asin=B00824370Q&qid=1337095791&sr=1-3

Secret Sequels

Posted: May 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags:

A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

There’s recently been a flurry of posts about Undead Press, a small publishing house that a) doesn’t pay, b) allegedly humiliates its authors by inserting gratuitous rape scenes into their stories, without asking those authors if they want those rape scenes to be there, and c) has apparently published and continues to advertise a sequel to George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, showing an absolute lack of respect for copyright or concern for the legal consequences.

Much has been made of the illiterate rants editor/publisher Anthony Giangregorio sends to authors who dare complain, and the questionable wisdom in sending stories to a one-man shop whose proprietor seems to have a command of english less impressive than that of the fourteenth commenter down on an Aint-It-Cool-News thread (“that flik’s gona suck bigtime lol!”). Giangregorio has reportedly sent abusive mail to professionals who contacted him trying to tell him that he’s playing with fire, with that DAWN OF THE DEAD sequel. He appears to be the platonic ideal of the know-nothing, not only ignorant but proud of it; not just a bull in a china shop, but one with a contempt for china.

I could pass a few words about publishers who pay in “exposure” and how it doesn’t really help writers. Just look at Edgar Allan Poe. He died of exposure. Nyuk, Nyuk.

But what I really want to address is that DAWN OF THE DEAD sequel, an act of supreme arrogance given that the zombie tropes have entered the public discourse anyway. For years, anybody who has wanted to write a zombie story using George Romero’s rules has been able to do just that; the rules are loose out there, and have inspired zombie stories of varying quality running the gamut from repugnant to sublime. There’s absolutely zero chance of anybody writing a basic zombie story being sued for it. What Giangregorio has done is specifically, and deliberately, hijack the name of a better work and superior work to his sequel; he is specifically saying, “This is a sequel to DAWN TO THE DEAD.” Which he has no right to do.

But are there no conceivable circumstances where a writer can get away with something like this, using a prior story by someone else as a jumping-off point?

Of course there are. Harlan Ellison wrote “The Prowler In the City At the Edge Of The World” as a sequel to Robert Bloch’s “A Toy For Juliette.” Of course, he asked permission, and what resulted was a very neat bit of literary feedback, especially given that both stories appeared for the same time under the same covers.

But it goes further than that.

Writers are people who ask, “What happens next?” They tend to ask this whenever dissatisfied with something, including work by others. When they read a story that to their mind gets a certain plot point wrong, or leaves another plot point dangling, they start thinking, and sometimes come up with responses in the form of their own stories. BILL THE GALACTIC HERO by Harry Harrison is very specifically an angry response to Robert Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS, in much the same way that Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” is an angry response to “God Bless America.” That doesn’t mean Harrison plagiarized Heinlein; it does, however, mean that his work began as a thematic sequel. It is just not *legally* a sequel.

Writers who wonder what happens next sometimes tell us. That lonely waitress who at the end of one story throws down her apron and storms away from the diner, in search of a better life? Another writer may wonder whatever happened to her and write the tale of a woman who arrives in another city, with no money and no prospects, but a pocket full of hope. He may never SAY that it’s the same woman. He will likely change her name, her hair color, even her age and speech patterns. He has put his own touch on the material. He has made sure that nobody will ever know that he’s written a sequel. But it is a sequel, a secret sequel, where one work immediately led to another.

I have done this.

I have written a published and frequently reprinted story that is, to my mind, about the estranged brother of the hero of a very, very famous and very influential work. The other work is not named, but the story makes clear reference to my own protagonist’s issues with his sibling. It is, to my mind, a sequel. Nobody, but nobody, has ever gotten the connection unless it was pointed out to them. That’s fine with me. My story needs to stand on its own.

I have a future history, “The AIsource Infection,” that at this point comprises three novels and multiple short stories, novelettes, and novellas, set in an interstellar civilization. It is very much my creation. IN MY MIND, it is all a sequel to a certain famous piece of science fiction, written by one of the greatest minds the field has ever produced. The clues to what piece of science fiction are in the stories themselves. Good luck figuring it out. And it won’t matter if you do; I have added so much from my own palate that the ancestry is now clearly distant. My story stands on its own.

I have a story I haven’t finished, about a man and woman who find each other after being transported to an unimaginably far future. It is, to my mind, the sequel to yet another classic. If I ever finish this story, I promise that you will not recognize the background. The first story provided inspiration, and themes I wanted to pursue.

It is literary feedback.

It is a far cry from what Giangregorio has done, subsume the original work in his sequel, exploit the original to make money, and trumpet a connection he hasn’t earned.

MacKENNA’S GOLD

Posted: May 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

Last night, re-watched a movie I saw about a hundred times during my childhood, made during the twilight of the grand Hollywood western, a film that has its moments and is not *not* fun, but is notable today for the sheer amount of talent wasted on its aggressive stupidity. MACKENNA’S GOLD. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, who was also only responsible for, you know, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE. Starring Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Keenan Wynn, Lee J. Cobb, Raymond Massey, Ted Cassidy, Julie Newmar, Burgess Meredith, Anthony Quayle, Edward G. Robinson, and Eli Wallach. *That* is a cast. And the story is so aggressively stupid that even Stephen Sommers might have said, “Oh, no. No. No. No, no, no.”

Sharif wants to find a legendary Apache canyon of gold, but only Peck saw the map before it was destroyed, so he takes Peck prisoner and Peck is forced to led him and his gang to the bonanza Peck doesn’t even believe in.

Among other sins: some of the most laughable special effects you ever saw. Really. Awful rear-screen projection during horseback riding scenes. The heroine has a fight with Julie Newmar while both are galloping horses on a narrow path into the canyon, and Julie Newmar comes off the worse for it, falling the requisite long distance to her death..but not only does NOBODY make any comment about Newmar’s death afterward, but the falling body is the most obvious dummy you have ever, ever, EVER seen.

Another passage has the whole gang cross a river using one of those paddle-ferries. But “the current is too strong” and they cannot control the ferry, encountering white water rapids and a raging waterfall right around the bend. Who the hell would EVER put a ferry in that particular spot? What kind of maniac?

Jeez, I just now realized ANOTHER reason this movie makes no sense.

The final step of the journey to the canyon is to stand beside a giant natural stone pillar at dawn, and race really fast to follow the shadow the pillar makes as it points its way to a tiny crack in the rock.

So there’s a scene where everybody on horses rides like the devil to outpace the shadow as it elongates toward the crack in the mountain, at dawn.

And yet — at DAWN, that shadow will be as long as it will be, in that direction, all day long; as the sun rises, that shadow will SHORTEN. The scene of Peck, Sharif, and company, riding like the devil to outrace that elongating shadow — which is already stupid because it implies that they can ride their horses faster than the rotation of the Earth — is ALSO stupid because the shadow will NOT get longer as the sun rises behind it; no shadow will ever behave that way.

There’s also the fact that *after* the big gratuitous earthquake at the end, after the canyon is gold is buried by fallen rock, after the obelisk that leads to it tumbles to the ground, and only Gregory Peck and whatserface survive to ride away with gold nuggets in their saddlebags…they STILL KNOW HOW TO GET THERE. The gold is still where it always was; all MacKenna has to do is stake a claim and start up a mining company. The movie gives the impression that the canyon is lost forever, and it really isn’t.

In later years, a movie like this is also instructive for demonstrating the screenplays that left the main star exceptionally bored. I mean, this is GREGORY PECK. Atticus Finch. SPELLBOUND. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE. GENTLEMEN’S AGREEMENT. CAPE FEAR. Greatness in performance, even in not-great films, all the way up to his last role of substance, OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY opposite Danny DeVito. This guy was even great in AMAZING GRACE AND CHUCK. In MCKENNA’S GOLD? Hello, here I am. I’m Gregory Peck. Show me where to stand.

I would also point that this was at the tail end of the era where westerns — as a leading movie genre — pretty much died for good, so we had stuff this laughable and as laughable as James Stewart’s THE RARE BREED, lots and lots of really lame and/or square and/or stupid stuff that failed to speak to the times at all — and the backlash to that, in the persons of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah and Robert Altman and even William Goldman’s Butch and Sundance, resulted in some of the terrific examples of the form, even as the ship went down. I would dearly a dip in the popularity of science fiction, and particularly superhero films, if those genres could also experience such a reinvigorating backlash. But I doubt that it will ever happen.

Way to Go…Morons!

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

We went to another show at The Hard Rock last night. Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Hollywood. Five great Broadway singers, an evening of terrific music. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and that’s all you hear me say about that, right now.

More to the point, I would like to offer these apparent excerpts from the official handbook of concert-goer etiquette, as traditionally understood by vast numbers… of the Hard Rock audience and as demonstrated with particular verve by hundreds of those who attended last night.

1) Always remember that this concert hall is attached to a casino and that large numbers of you are comped. Therefore, remember that the show is worth exactly what you paid for it. Ignore anybody around you who actually did pay for it; treat the concert hall as if it’s a casino lounge, the performers as if they’re the house band, and the venue as if just a place to sit down until the ache in your legs goes away and you’re ready to go back to losing this week’s social security check on Zeus.

2) To accomplish this: if the show is supposed to start at eight, make sure that the majority of you don’t start filing in until EXACTLY eight. Make sure that the auditorium doesn’t look even remotely close to filled until about a quarter after eight. Since this means that all shows must start at 8:20 or even 8:30 to accommodate you, you must also make sure that some of you start filing into your rows long after the actual show begins, at 8:45, 9:00, or even 9:20. If you file into your row during the last song, or even as the guy on stage is thanking everybody for being a great audience, then you win. Extra points if it’s a comedian and you’re in the front row, filing in just as he’s wrapping up, so he can look at you in aghast amazement and say, “Shall I start over?” A good way to make sure you do this is to go out to dinner at one of the good restaurants at 7:30 or so, when anybody with sense knows that you need an hour to be served, to settle up, and hobble over.

3) Conversely, remember that the concert is a big imposition on your time and that the performers are lucky to have you show up at all. A good trick is to file into your seat just before the concert begins and then, only ONE song into the show, grimly file out, forcing everybody in your row to stand so you can escape. Remember that everybody who just had to stand up to let you in now has to stand up again to let you out. Don’t let the fact that there is no possible reason for this behavior stop you. Show-stopping numbers are also a great possible time for you to suddenly realize that it’s been almost half an hour since your last visit to a slot machine and that you really need to go play Zeus RIGHT FUCKING NOW. A particularly polite time to make your bold escape is when the leader of the performers on stage mentions that they’re about to sing their last song and takes the opportunity to introduce the back-up band, one at a time; you have absolutely no possible reason to respect this information and should use this opportunity to beat the crowds, forcing everybody in your row to stand up so you can save a few minutes getting back to Zeus. Remember that the last song is never, never anything good, anyway. If it was good, they would have put it somewhere near the beginning, within your attention span or the carrying capacity of your kidneys.

4) Alternatively, you can be one of the diehards who stay in your row until the final song begins and THEN suddenly decide it’s time to file out. That’s good. Always remember, this is television. Those aren’t people on stage. Those aren’t other audience members around you. This is just television, only bigger. You can come and go any time you want. If you MUST listen to that last song, then at the moment you hear the final note, then, by all means, hundreds of you, all stand up and start walking out, without so much as a single grudging moment of applause. Why should you applaud? Other people are. They’re suckers. They’re the folks who stay behind to show some consideration while you get back to your car, or to Zeus, a few precious seconds earlier. This is especially important if you’re in the first row; by all means, all stand up at once and start fighting your way to the exits, because the most important message you want to give the performers at this particular juncture is that their show was an ordeal and that you couldn’t wait for it to be over.