Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.
-Dumbledore and the Doctor
Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.
-Dumbledore and the Doctor
Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully is quite possibly the best woman who has ever graced the small screen. I seriously want to be her when I grow up. And not just because she’s smart, professional, good at rolling her eyes, and capable of holding her own against serial killers, rogue agents, and monsters.
Consider Scully’s life for a moment. Over the course of six seasons (a little less than six years in her timeline), she loses her dad, her sister, her dog, and her good reputation. She almost loses her partner/true love several times. She’s been abducted and experimented on, almost died from cancer, had a cloned baby daughter who also died right in front of her, and spent some time as an alien egg in the depths of Antarctica. And that’s not even counting her almost-weekly confrontations with superhuman freaks that can can squeeze through air vents or control people with their voices. Her faith in science, in God, and in her mission at the FBI is constantly being put to the test. The fact that she’s a woman working in a very masculine and often rather sexist environment is just the icing on the cake.
If most of us had to go through even half that stuff, we’d probably be reduced to helpless, quivering balls of neuroses. At least, I know I would be. But not Scully. She deals with these things on her own time and then shows up to work the next morning, makeup intact. That’s the thing I love about her. She shows up. If someone she cares about needs help, or if innocent people are in danger, she’ll be there with a lab coat and a gun, ready to do what’s necessary. It doesn’t matter what she’s going through personally, how dangerous the rescue might be, or how much she disapproves of what the person (*cough*Mulder*cough*) did to wind up in trouble, she’ll get them out of it. She might be sarcastic about it, but she’ll get it done. And not because she doesn’t have feelings or can’t be hurt by the crap life throws at her (quite the contrary), but just because she cares about others more than herself.
She also has a wonderfully deadpan sense of humour, and she’s the supreme mistress of the eyebrow lift. This woman is my hero.
So, guess who I was for Halloween?
This was one of the easier costumes I’ve ever done. I already have a few articles of business attire lying around, so all I had to buy was a more Scully-esque blazer, a toy gun, and a can of temporary red hair dye. I made my own FBI badge using this handy-dandy link and a picture of Scully I printed out. It helped that I already had a laminated name tag pouch from a conference. The hair was the only difficult part – I had to use a bunch of curlers to give my hair that lifted bob look – and I still don’t think I completely nailed it. But the important thing is, I was well-armed against trick-or-treaters. And I now have a fake FBI badge, which is pretty sweet.
Everything about Scully is awesome (except her dress sense in the early seasons – that was a bit appalling). I only wish I could be her for more than one day out of the year.
Doesn’t this cool autumn weather just make you want to curl up in a blanket and binge-watch scary Netflix shows? It does me! The Walking Dead is an obvious choice for Halloween viewing, of course, but even shows that don’t fall squarely into the “horror” category occasionally surprise you with a truly creepy episode. This is especially true for those that follow the monster-of-the-week format I love so dearly.
Here are some scary highlights from my favourite shows:
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” – The two-parter that introduced the phrase “gas mask zombies” into Whovian vocabulary and made “Are you my mummy?” the scariest sentence in the world. Also, Steven Moffat’s first episode and one of the best stories involving the Ninth Doctor.
“The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” – The Doctor and Rose land on a planet orbiting a black hole and meet the Devil. The result: the only Doctor Who episode I’ve felt uncomfortable showing my 9-year-old sister. Not that the actual Beast is all that scary, but there’s something really unsettling about the Ood.
“Blink” – Again, Moffat. This time, he decided to make statues the scariest thing in the world. To this day, angel statues make me uneasy. This is easily one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time, so you really can’t miss it, whether you’re looking for a fright or just a clever work of art.
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” – And for a third time, Moffat. Everyone’s afraid of the dark sometimes, and these episodes give us a reason to be. They also give us a planet-sized library, our first meeting with River Song, and lots of emotional trauma.
“Midnight” – No slimy alien monsters, just the Doctor stuck in a bus with a bunch of panicky people, one of whom keeps repeating what everyone else says. It’s terrifying. And again, one of the greatest episodes ever.
“Night Terrors” – Giant, living dolls and an apartment complex straight from my nightmares. Only Rory Williams could get through this one unfazed.
Even though it is marketed as a horror show (and has a higher body count than The Walking Dead), Supernatural usually isn’t all that scary. But it does have its moments.
“Asylum” – It’s an abandoned insane asylum with creepy twitching ghosts everywhere, one of whom makes people bleed and go crazy. This sort of thing is why I don’t go to haunted houses.
“Something Wicked” – Monsters that target children are always extra scary. Especially when they’re portrayed explicitly like paedophiles. Especially when their actual “monster” form has long, tree-branch-y fingernails that scrape against your window right as you’re falling asleep…I mean, who didn’t have that nightmare as a kid?
“Everybody Loves a Clown” – No. We don’t.
“The Kids Are Alright” – No. They’re not.
“No Rest for the Wicked” – This episode is upsetting on a number of levels, since it’s a season finale that ends with one of our heroes dead (for the first time) and in Hell. But the scariest thing about it isn’t the hellhounds or the final shot of Dean. It’s FREAKING LILITH. Talk about a creepy child. “I don’t think I like you anymore.” *shudder*
“Family Remains” – Who would have thought finding out your new house isn’t haunted would make it scarier? No ghosts in this one, just a really messed-up sibling duo…much like a certain X-Files episode…
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” – Okay, so this one isn’t especially scary, but it’s the Halloween episode. And it is chock full of ghosts, zombies, demons, and witches.
I mean, one of the main characters is nicknamed “Spooky.” Of COURSE it’s got scary moments.
“Squeeze/Tooms” – These episodes will replace your fear of mice getting in the house via the air vents with fear of a liver-eating serial killer getting inside the same way.
“Irresistible” – And yet, Eugene Victor Tooms is outdone by a (probably) completely normal serial killer. He has a thing for hair and fingernails…and Scully…
“The Calusari” – You know how little kids don’t usually get killed on TV-14 rated shows? That rule doesn’t apply to The X-Files. Not that one of the kids in this episode wasn’t a killer himself, and also probably possessed by Satan. This is not a good one to watch alone in the dark.
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” – It’s a funny episode, but also pretty creepy and morbid, especially whenever we get a glimpse of Clyde’s death visions.
“Home” – As I’ve mentioned before, this got a “mature content” warning slapped on it when it first aired, for understandable reasons. It will also ruin your childhood if you grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show. But it’s a fantastic episode nevertheless.
“Sanguinarium” – This one isn’t exactly scary so much as it is just really, really gross. Botched plastic surgery + witchcraft does not equal happy times.
“Chinga” – It’s about an evil talking doll. It was co-written by Stephen King. Need I say more?
Even the myth arc episodes get in on the fun, with the “black oil” virus and aliens hatching from people’s torsos and whatnot. “Tunguska/Terma” and “Patient X/The Red and the Black” deserve special mention, partly for black oil-related gruesomeness and partly because Alex Krycek is Justin Bieber’s demon form.
The Twilight Zone
All of The Twilight Zone. Every single episode. If the actual plot doesn’t give you the creeps, the ’60s special effects, combined with that theme song and Rod Serling’s grin, will. They should broadcast marathons of this show around Halloween, not Fourth of July.
Well, that seems like a pretty comprehensive list to me. Please comment below if I missed anything. Meanwhile, happy binge-watching!
As I was deciding what to put in this post, I realized that I really don’t watch that many scary movies. Not sure why – I already have a really long list of spooky TV ready for the next post, and I left out several of my favourite scary books in the last one. I guess when it comes to movies, I tend to go more for the action and sci-fi stuff.
But I’ve got a few to mention. And if you haven’t seen these, then you should really be ashamed of yourself for having less scary movie experience than the non-scary-movie-watching Aldy.
I know it’s not considered “horror” as much as its predecessor is, but it’s still pretty darn scary. The tension just constantly builds and builds, through quiet drama scenes and crazy full-blown action scenes alike, right up until the end. Because that’s how it works when you’re trapped on a dead planet where acid-dripping aliens could burst out of inconvenient places at any moment. But it’s not just the masterly pacing or the awesome battle scenes that endear this movie to me. There’s just something about a woman who’s survived a lot of trauma bonding with an equally traumatized little girl, and then suiting up in power armour to battle a gigantic alien queen for said little girl’s safety, that really pulls me into a story. Ripley is still pretty much the character to beat as far as sci-fi heroines go.
2. The Sixth Sense
Like many people of my generation, I watched this movie already knowing the Big Twist. (And I didn’t even have to read it on the Internet! Thanks, random kid in history class.) But this is one Shyamalan movie that isn’t ruined by its ending. In fact, once you know it, it’s a lot of fun to pick out all the subtle moments of foreshadowing that came before. It’s also fun to watch Bruce Willis with hair, Haley Joel Osment delivering one of the better child actor performances I’ve ever seen, some symbol-saturated cinematography, and a lovely take on ghosts that has influenced many a supernatural tale ever since. Once again, the characters are what make this movie great: I can sympathise with little Cole’s struggle to overcome his fears, and with the psychiatrist’s desire to atone for his previous failure. And the fact that I care about them just makes the mind-blowing, tear-jerking ending that much sweeter.
And yet, sometimes likable characters aren’t everything. Here’s a movie with no decent human beings in it at all. It starts out with a woman stealing money from her employer and hitting the road like a petty criminal…and it ends with some utterly forgettable people arresting a far, far worse criminal. Yet it’s easy to see why it’s such a classic. I think the magic lies, again, in the slowly building dramatic tension Hitchcock did so very well – and in Anthony Perkins’ incredible performance as the titular “psycho”. Rarely do you see an insane serial killer portrayed with so much genuine sweetness and vulnerability. Even though he’s really the most messed-up character in the movie – one of the most famously messed-up in any movie – you do end up sympathising with him quite a lot. But that smile at the end is still the stuff of nightmares.
So, now that I’ve come to the realisation that I need to find more good scary movies…any suggestions?
We are officially in the last week of October, and Halloween is swiftly approaching us. Have you stocked up on your scary stories for the week? I have, so I’ll be spending this week posting about the best ones I’ve encountered, in various media.
Before we begin, I should probably include a disclaimer: I like scary stories, but I won’t read or watch horror. To me, there’s a difference. A horror story is one in which the characters, plot, etc. are merely a device to bring you as much gore and as many jump scares as possible, which is why the characters in those stories tend to be so idiotic and one-dimensional. I don’t have time for that nonsense. On the whole, I prefer stories with well-rounded characters and intelligent plots, and a dose of the uncanny can make those stories even better. All the more terrifying opportunities for the hero (and the viewer, to an extent) to show what he/she is made of.
Anyway, let’s start with books. In no particular order:
1. World War Z by Max Brooks
I would probably have gone through my whole life hating zombies if my freshman literature teacher hadn’t made me read this book. (Thanks, Dr. Rubin!) It’s an oral history of the zombie apocalypse, as told by survivors around the world. Picture a journalism project along the lines of Humans of New York, but with lots more blood. And as it traces the fictional apocalypse from its mysterious beginnings in China to the construction of a new world order, it offers some rather profound insight into real-life politics, consumer culture, military strategy, and more. Plus it’s really funny at times, and it’s the first and only book that has legitimately given me nightmares. If you read only one zombie book and/or only one alternate history in your life, make it this one.
Not to be confused with the completely different Brad Pitt movie of the same title. That one kinda sucked.
2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This is a nice, short read about the “dual nature” of mankind and the consequences of giving in to our darker impulses. Everybody knows the story of the mild-mannered scientist who makes a potion to transform into his bad self, but you really have to read the book to understand why it’s such an icon of Western culture. It manages to be atmospherically creepy without giving many of the gory details. It’s philosophical and moral, but not heavy-handed. I like Stevenson’s writing in general, but I think this is his true masterpiece. And I know it takes place in London, but ever since I visited Edinburgh, Stevenson’s awesomely Gothic birthplace, I like to think of it all happening there.
3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It’s a classic for a reason. And again, it’s a reason you won’t find in any of the adaptations, parodies, or unauthorised sequels people have been endlessly churning out ever since the first edition came off the presses. What appears to be a story about a naive scientist accidentally creating a monster is actually a complicated tragedy about the neglect and oppression certain members of society (particularly women) experienced in Shelley’s time. (Yeah, this is another one I had to read for lit class. Three different lit classes, actually…) It’s as poetic and beautiful as it is scary. It was also one of the earliest sci-fi books – certainly among the first of the “mad scientist” variety. And an 18-year-old came up with the idea. Just in case you needed a guilt trip today.
4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Okay, I admit it – when it comes to scary books, my tastes run decidedly Gothic. This is another good one, though. And perhaps “scary” isn’t the right word, even though it does start out with a very creepy ghost sighting, and more ghosts appear later on. “Severely messed-up and disturbing” might be better terminology. This is a romance novel in the same sense that Twilight is a romance, except the author of Wuthering Heights didn’t try to pretend there was anything healthy about Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship. Their incredibly self-centred, morbid fascination with each other ends up destroying two generations of their families – and somehow it’s very enjoyable to read about. Each of the characters are twisted and flawed in their own special way, and each one gets a unique comeuppance. There’s something starkly beautiful in that.
5. Irish Ghost Stories edited by David Stuart Davies
This is a lovely little book I picked up in an Oxford bookstore. It’s a collection of short, creepy stories written by the likes of Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, WB Yeats, and other giants of Irish literature. There’s just something about the ancient castles and bleak, rocky landscapes of Ireland that seems to inspire the very best ghost stories. My favourites include: “Squire Toby’s Will,” “The Curse,” and especially “The Judge’s House” (Bram Stoker is at his best when he’s not writing Dracula).
What are your favourite scary books?
My next post will tackle spooky films, so stay tuned!
Instead of an inspirational quote, today I’m going to give you guys an inspirational video.
Because if the new Star Wars VII trailer doesn’t get you through the week, I don’t know what will.
This is gonna be, like, the best Christmas present EVER.
Let’s talk about the new X-Files series coming out, shall we? The Fox network, in a desperate attempt to win back the nerdy audience it lost by cancelling Firefly, is bringing back the only other good show it ever aired for a miniseries, starting in January. The official trailer dropped about a month ago, and I have feelings about it. Both good and bad feelings.
First, the bad. I know this is incredibly shallow, but it’s kind of jarring to see how old everyone’s grown over the last decade. Like, I knew I was watching an outdated show…but it didn’t quite hit home until I saw that the entire cast is literally old enough to be my parents (or grandparents, in Skinner’s case). Oh, well. RIP, David Duchovny’s jawline.
More importantly, this trailer seems to suggest that Mulder and Scully are not a couple. Look at Scully’s face when she answers the phone! That’s definitely a “call from the guy I foolishly broke up with ten years ago” face. And it looks like she and Mulder weren’t even working together at the beginning! I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS. NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS OKAY.
The trailer is also giving me plenty of good feelings, though. I’m especially intrigued by the idea of continuing the myth arc in our modern, high-surveillance society. A lot has changed since The X-Files stopped airing. For one thing, some of the crazy conspiracy theories it concocted have turned out to be eerily close to the truth. And today’s Internet- and CCTV-saturated world, with its drones and NSA leaks, should provide plenty more paranoia fuel for the new, presumably digital, x-files.The only downside is, with caller ID on the agents’ cell phones, we probably won’t get to hear the “Mulder, it’s me” line again.
And then there are the little moments that make me squee inside: the ceiling pencils, the poster, the CIGARETTE (!!!). It’s good to see that all the best characters from the original show will be back. I’ve even heard the Lone Gunmen are going to make an appearance.
Will all this add up to a good revival (or at least a good wrap-up to the series)? Who knows? I want to believe it’ll be good. But we can trust no one these days…
In the meantime, enjoy this animated trailer that just came out. I think I may have spotted a fluke-man in it.
Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while know that I’m not a huge fan of romantic fiction. I despise romance novels, and I refuse to watch any movie or TV show where the plot revolves around who is shagging whom.
But once in a while, a fictional couple comes around that is capable of giving me some genuine warm and fuzzies. (Every couple ever written by Jane Austen, for example.) Most recently, it’s been the original OTP themselves, Mulder and Scully, who have broken down my cynical anti-romance mind blocks and made me care about their relationship.
So I thought I’d use them as an example of what I look for in a TV couple. Behold, my romance standards:
1) Both partners must be equally well-developed characters, and I must like them both equally.
From day one, Mulder and Scully each had their own character arcs to go with their day-and-night personalities. Some episodes focus more on Mulder and some on Scully, but the average episode gives them about the same amount of screen time. And I love both of them equally (well, okay, I’m a little bit partial to Scully, but that’s because I’m automatically biased towards female characters who are more than just “the girlfriend”). Both undergo the same amount of character development, and both their stories are exciting and poignant, though usually for different reasons. This is extremely rare on TV. I can’t think of another show that puts the same amount of effort into developing both halves of a romantic couple, or portrays both halves with the same amount of sympathy. Of course, it helps that the couple in question were the co-stars and co-protagonists of The X-Files from the beginning.
2) BUT – they must be even better together.
As much as I love Mulder and Scully’s separate character arcs, I tend not to like the (rare) episodes where one of them doesn’t show up at all. Mulder isn’t as fun to watch when he doesn’t constantly have to defend his ideas to Scully. Plus, when she’s not around he tends to do stupid things, like make out with vampire chicks and wave guns in people’s faces at the wrong times. And Scully isn’t nearly as fun when she doesn’t have Mulder’s crazy ideas to snark at, or his jokes to help her lighten up. They bring out the best in each other. This is a hard balance to strike, and its success in The X-Files has a lot to do with the actors’ amazing chemistry.
3) The relationship must be based on mutual respect.
That’s what they tell you in all the dating articles online, right? Yet it’s funny how rarely it happens on screen (or in real life, sadly). Most fictional couples give me the impression that they’re only together because of mutual hotness. Not so with Mulder/Scully (although they’re both pretty attractive, too). The only reason they’re able to work together at all is because they respect each other in spite of their radically different opinions. No matter how much they disagree, they always listen to each other and never dismiss each other’s ideas out of hand. And if a particular goal is important to one of them, the other will make it their first priority, too.
4) Neither partner can be afraid to call out the other one’s mistakes.
As much as our agents respect each other, they’re also fully aware of each other’s shortcomings, and they really know how to bring the tough love. Scully, especially, excels in this (to the point where it sometimes becomes one of her shortcomings). But neither agent can get away with doing anything stupid, wrong, and/or embarrassing without the other pointing it out. And they sure can’t lie to each other for long.
5) The relationship must not be the most important thing in either character’s life.
I know, I know, it sounds harsh. But I cannot stand those stories where one romantic partner acts like the entire universe revolves around the other (I’m looking at you, women of Doctor Who). This is my biggest beef with fictional relationships in general, and it’s a major reason why I’m more receptive to romance in the context of speculative fiction. Because sure, romance is important, but so are friendship, family, jobs and saving the world. If one fellow human being has become your whole world, then, frankly, your world is pretty small. And if you’re on TV, your story is pretty boring. But Mulder and Scully don’t fall into that trap. Quite the opposite–they didn’t even kiss or say the words “I love you” for, like, six whole seasons, because they were too busy trying to save people from aliens. It’s obvious that they love each other, first as friends and later as something more, but they don’t let their feelings get in the way of their search for The Truth. And their common devotion to that goal actually makes their relationship stronger. It is, to quote Scully, “Folie a deux: a madness shared by two.”
So yep, I ship Mulder and Scully pretty hard. I think all TV couples should aspire to be like them.
I feel like hard sci-fi movies have been getting progressively better over the last few years. First there was Gravity, which was visually beautiful but annoyed a lot of science geeks by not doing its research. Then there was Interstellar, which got the science right (and was even more visually beautiful), but got a little too ambitious with its story. Now we have The Martian, which is an unqualified gift from God to nerds everywhere.
Before I begin explaining what’s so great about this movie, I must confess that I have not read the original novel by Andy Weir. It’s been on my reading list since before I even knew there was a movie coming out, but, well…I have a long reading list. I will definitely make it a higher priority after seeing the film.
Because everything about The Martian made me happy. From the opening shot of the Martian landscape (so much better than that “Explore Mars” app on Google Earth that I used to waste time on) to “I Will Survive” playing over the end credits, there was not a single moment I didn’t like. And we’re talking about a loooonnngg movie here.
In case you haven’t seen it, the plot is simple: Astronaut Mark Watney, one of the first people to explore Mars, gets hit by debris while his crew is evacuating during a severe storm. Thinking him dead, the rest of the astronauts reluctantly leave him behind. But Mark, aka Jason Bourne, is not dead, and he is determined to stay that way, despite being marooned on a planet with no air and with no way to contact NASA.
So in some ways, the rest of the movie plays out like Robinson Crusoe in space, except that while Robinson Crusoe was an unforgivably boring book about building houses and fishing, this is an exciting story about…well, growing potatoes and talking in code. But trust me, it actually is exciting. Because it’s on freaking Mars, where humans are not meant to survive and anything can go wrong at a moment’s notice, and it does. Never has growing potatoes looked so much like a Bourne-worthy stunt. Plus, the folks on Earth eventually figure out Mark is still alive, so part of the movie is about their equally odds-defying efforts to rescue him.
And as for the science–NASA has been actively promoting this movie, so I think it’s safe to say at least some of the survival methods it shows will actually be part of the first manned mission to Mars. They’re shown and explained in such detail that this could almost be a how-to guide for those astronauts, in case they get stuck.
Best of all, everyone who is supposed to be a scientist (which is literally everyone in the movie) acts and talks like a scientist. Which is to say, they take a ridiculous amount of joy and pride in their work, and they’re not ashamed to show it. That’s an aspect of scientific people that I think doesn’t get conveyed on screen often enough. Every scientist I’ve ever met LOVES being a scientist and will burst into gleefully nerdy rants at the slightest provocation. That’s exactly how they act in this movie.
And that’s what really makes it great. The Martian is very intense at times (and there’s a gory scene at the beginning that is not for the faint of heart), but it manages to keep a light-hearted tone even through the most extreme life-or-death situations. Part of this is due to Mark’s sense of humour, since he narrates a good portion of the movie through his video logs. No matter what Mars throws at him, he responds by stating the problem and how awful it is, and then saying something along the lines of “I am gonna science the *bleep* outta this.” (Actual dialogue.) Honestly, what with Mark’s reliance on duct tape, his tendency to blow stuff up, and his relentlessly cheerful outlook, I sometimes felt like I was watching a really intense episode of Mythbusters.
Throw in the gem of a moment when Sean Bean explains why the secret meeting he’s a part of has been codenamed Elrond (also, Sean Bean survives this movie! It’s a miracle!), and all the disco music a Guardians of the Galaxy fan can stomach, and you’ve got your nerdy self an early Christmas present. This movie is magical.
Never tell me the odds!