[TV/Horror] Buffy The Vampire Slayer – 20th Anniversary

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first airing of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. I got into it sometimes in September of 1997, as it was part of the late Saturday night programming on one of the French TV free-to-air channels. I did not know back then that is was inspired or an attempt to revive the story of a 19XX movie also called “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, that have similar plot line but for some reasons never went over in Europe or at least never got the exposure it needed. Up until now I did not watch that movie maybe because I could not find the opportunity to put my hands on or perhaps because I am reluctant to watch a cheesy teen-movie from the 80s? I don’t know but lets refocus our attention to the TV series.

At first, I thought it would be just another series, a improbable collision between “Beverly Hills 90210” and vampire themed TV series. Turns out I was wrong and got hooked to it for almost all of the seasons (although I started to let it go by the end of Season 6 for some reasons). The story plot maybe simple but yet it quickly grows in by the characters: the story starts as we follow Buffy Sommers (played by Sarah-Michelle Gellar) and her mother Joyce moving in Sunnydale, a typical Californian suburbia. Things starts pretty mellow as she got introduced to her high-school and things start already to look interesting: Buffy comes in with a probation from her previous school as we was found guilty of arson (she burnt down a whole gym to kill off vampires). This curious detail is rapidly followed by her introduction to Giles, the school librarian. He somehow was aware of her coming and welcomed her with a big old book written “Vampyr” on it, mentioning she maybe surely interested to read into it.

We are also introduced one by one to what will become the “Scooby Gang”, an hodgepodge of various characters very similar to the “Breakfast Club”. All different representative of the teenage tribes: the cheerleader (Cordelia, played by Charisma Carptenter), the nerdy girl (Willow, played by Alisson Hannigan), the dropout student (Xander, played by Alexander Lavelle), the weird but cool guy working on his garage band (Oz, played by Seth Greene) and the mysterious and handsome stranger (Angel, played by David Boreanaz).

The pilot quickly transition from a teenage TV series straight into vampire hunt during the concert scene at “The Bronze”, the local hang-out bar for teenagers. This is where a couple of vampires started an attack on the public and Buffy reveals her true power: a vampire slayer, knowing how to fight (Gellar holds some Tae-Kwan-Doo belt) and give them their death wish with a spike straight into the heart.

All these different ingredients made the series great: the main character was a teenage girl, away from the “blonde stereotype” knowing to kick butts and impale vampires. She had everything to be popular and yet she is an outcast, gravitating around her small circle of friends and her duty as a Chosen one. Buffy struggles to conciliate her school life and her professional life and surely brings on the parallel with many students trying to transition into adulthood by combining part-time jobs and academic performance.

Buffy was indeed a remarkable icon of what many GenX-ers were ongoing back then, growing in a single parent family, dealing with popularity in school and not fitting into the mold. Transitioning from teenage years to adulthood and the turbulences going on with. It brought on some hard times about feelings of love (Buffy/Angel, Xander/Anja), heartbreak (Willow/Oz), death (Angel/Buffy/Joyce), not living to your parents/mentor expectations (Faith and her rebellious stance against the Order, standing by the wrong side and becoming an outcast amongst her friends for the mistakes she had done). Even the most impeccable character (Giles) had his own inner demons, his own dark secrets from his teenage years (we learned that Giles back in his teenage years was a punk dealing with occultism, enough to cause some serious damage).

 But certainly one of the best moment by its ability to break down the 4th wall was that famous episode in which Joyce (Buffy’s Mom) dies at home from an hemorrhagic stroke, right in the middle of a school day. The whole episode is about that day, no music and a clear and nervous photography bringing us as a witness of the moment. We are here, watching Joyce dead and seeing Buffy frantically try to revive her, calling 911, and getting to learn the abrupt news from the doctor: her Mom is dead. Facing death in your teenage years is not easy, facing one of your parent’s death is even less easy. Facing your only parent’s death as you are just trying to get out your teenage years is simply heartbreaking and we as the audience see one of the most gentle character left us without any chance to say goodbye.

What what also great was the inclusion of many things, little details about what we go through during our adolescence. For instance, the opening credentials was performed by Nerf Herder. Rock and its different iterations (punk, metal, alternative, indie….) was the common music playlist for many GenXers and was acting as an inclusive media into the Buffy-verse. But it was not only the opening sequence, it was also part of the social life in that universe. For instance, Joss Whedon was ensuring to use “The Bronze” local concert as a link to reality inviting small rock bands to perform in almost each episodes.  I still remember an episode in which K’s Choice was performing at The Bronze.

Joss also allowed the exploration of different facets of a teenager’s life have to deal with: inclusion and fitting into a group, exploring his/her sexuality and even touching LGBT issues (Willow for instance moving from an heterosexual relationship with Oz into a lesbian relationship with Tara), hate and jealousy (that episode of Tara dying from the jealousy of some nerds, killing her with one of their inventions), self-destruction and suicidal tendencies (I found the character of Spike matching this very-well), path to redemption and getting back in track (Angel’s path to redemption) and ultimately performing the ultimate sacrifice (when Buffy jumps into the vortex in one of a Season finale, giving her life for the sake of the whole humanity).

Rarely such TV series marked a whole generation (especially the GenX generation) as Buffy and even after all these years it shines into my psyche on how this TV series helped me move on into my transition from teenage into adulthood.

[TV/Horror] The Walking Dead Season 1-6 feedback and thoughts.

I admit, I have been late, very late on catching on the Walking Dead frenzy. So late that it took me this summer to hang and binge watch 6 years worth of the Walking Dead seasons in less than 6 weeks. But thanks to AMC “The Walking Dead” marathons ran every Sundays this summer, I caught it. I still have to catch “TWD” Comic book series but dang, it was worth it. So much for me to catch and hang on a TV serie, the last one that I hanged on from beginnning to end was……Lost. I guess there are several elements of Lost narrative that are also present in the TWD.
I am not gonna spoil that much on TWD but there will be elements of the six seasons discussed. You are warned.
First, the walkers, the rotten, the crawlers….in other words the living dead. They are the closest of the orginal living dead from Georges A. Romero’s “Night of The Living Dead”. Flacid, slow, flesh-eating creatures that are only ghosts of their former past life. Those bitten by them are also becoming part of the living dead as well. They are devoid of any feelings, any memories and solely relying on their reptilian brain. Indeed, this has became the main method to kill them (by stabbing a knife straight throught the temporal lobe). Again, as in the “Night of the Dead”, we dont know the origin of the outbreak, although at the end of the season 1, as Dr. Edwin Jenner (I guess it is not a coincidence he shares similar name than Edward Jenner, the inventor of the vaccination process), one former scientist of the CDC implies it is a viral infection that is present in every person. Such virus is spreading fast and transform the outbreak into an unsustainable mass extinction, enough to overrun the National Guards.
The starting of Season 1 really felt a lot like “28 days later…” as Rick Grimes (portrayed by Andrew Lincoln) wakes up from a coma to only find a deserted place in chaos. As Rick wanders around, we discover the gravity of the situation and met Morgan, the first survivor we witness as Rick. Morgan also will become a redudant character through the six seasons as we see him loosing his mind to better come back to sanity after his encounter with Eastman. The wandering of Rick in Atlanta streets on a horseback ride was surrealistic, as he will meet Glenn and seal one of the pillar of TWD. Glenn, an Asian-American, strongly remembers me from Romero’s main hero that was an antipode of the classical white man savior. Glenn is certainly the voice of reason and patience of the group that certainly made him one of my favorite character.
It seems that each season will bring one essential pillar to the team.
Rick becomes by default the leader of the group by default, without asking for it. Same that Jack Shepard from “Lost” did by the middle of the first season. He helps the small group of survivors located into a building in Downtown Atlanta to escape, not without leaving Merle (Darryl’s brother) handcuffed on the rooftop without the key to unlock his cuffs. As we progress through, Rick found his wife Lorie now in bed with Shane, his workmate and best friend that once saved his life during the intervention that sent Rick into a comatose. Tensions flare progressively between Rick and Shane for his wife and Carl, his son. This season also learn us a very dramatic and redudant thematic of TWD: the double grievance of seeing one of your dearests dying before your eyes and also the killing of their reincarnation as a living dead. This is certainly what makes the serie so captivating as you get sentimentally attached to many of these characters, making their separation much harder (this is why I speculate it is Eugene that will eat Negan’s baseball bat at the beginning of Season 7, unless the writers are complete jerks ready to infuriate the hardcore fans).
As the seasons go, we end up in a central location that will make the central theme of the season. In Season 1, it is Atlanta and the camp outside it, in season 2 it is Hershel’s farm, in Season 3 and 4 it is the Prison and Woodbury, in Season 5 it is the Terminus and Gabriel’s Church and in Season 6 it is Alexandria.
We see solid characters building tough to the situation such as Carol and Carl, we see hard-boiled men keeping on their principles such as Abraham and Darryl, we see fearless characters becoming human such as Michonne. We see characters that went into Hell and back as Morgan, but we also see characters forging a toughness without sacrifying their humanity such as Glenn and Maggie couple.
All brings this idea that the group finally found a safe haven in which they will be resting and possibly thrive, to only see their hope fading away in flames and torn apart by the walkers. It is probably an allegory of life in which we only learn to savior the comfort of our lives only to be taken by a natural disaster. This is one thing that this serie made me appreciate is to cherish any time of the day because it may vanish within a glimpse of a moment.
One of the remarkable aspect I have to admit is the impressive job done by the decoration and photography, that has made the post-apocalyptic environment so realistic you would expect. It we had some outbreak tomorrow that would shut down the society as we know it, we would be something similar to this.
A thematic that is also present is this idea of tribalism and clanism. We consider it in our modern society as an obsolete and archaic concept of primitive society. Yet, it becomes the essential aspect of survival. Look at Hershel’s family, the Governor’s town, the Terminaliens, the communities of Alexandria and Hilltop and finally Negan’s Saviors and the forecoming Ezekiel’s kingdom. Some are into insane cultism (as the Terminus reverted to cannibalism as their method of survival), herd survivalism (the cops holding in Atlanta’s Gray Memorial Hospital) to the closest form of democracy (Alexandria is appeared the closest of a semblant of democracy).
There are sometimes we feel the writers lost in their writings leading to a lot of empty periods broke only by intense final seasons and new seasons. In particularly I really felt a major chunk of Season 4 and a good half of Season 5. It reminds a lot what we experienced with the hatch and the early Dharma experiment.
Well, now I am back on track I cannot wait on TWD premiere in October and also giving a try to “Fear The Walking Dead” that leaves the Peach state for the arid region of Tijuana and the American-Mexican border.

[Movies] Halloween Month: Hershel Gordon Lewis (1929-20XX) or the Godfather of Gore Movies

Here we are, October is in! As October comes in, also Halloween! This year I decided to get inspired from the “Nerd” (The Angry Video Games Nerd) and post some horror movies that have been nurturing me from my childhood and early adulthood until I had to put my passion for them (as well as fantastic/Sci-Fi movies) on a hiatus as I got married and have kids. My goal is to post every two days and discuss about a movie and how this movie marked me as a kid.

As mini half-me is showing some interests for Halloween-themed horrors, I can feel the Force is going strong in him and maybe soon enough it will be time for me to dig out my DVD collection of Anchor Bay and from cheap producers and watch them together.
To begin with this series of thematic posts, I will start with Hershel Gordon Lewis, aka “The Godfather of the Horror Movies”.
If we should give the prime authorship, it would go to Mister H.G. Lewis for two low-budget movies: “Blood Feast” and “2000 Maniacs” that I will describe a bit more in the section below.

Blood Feast (USA – 1963 – 67 mins)

https://youtu.be/frxdl1AB9NA

Certainly the first feature bringing the concept of “horror” and “gore” to a theatrical released movie. The synopsis is very simple and a bit of non-sense. An Egyptian man, known as Fuad Ramsis, caterer by day and Ancient Egyptian by night, seeking to resurrect an Egyptian goddess Ishtaar by scarifying young women. The storyline is indeed very thin, maybe due to a ridiculous budget ($25’000) but is here to support the main driving force of this movie: blood and gore. The FX are laughable for our standard but putting back in the context, that was surely not for people with heart condition. You can find some reviews around on Youtube and on the Net.

2000 Maniacs (USA – 1964 – 83 mins)

https://youtu.be/nNmmc-pap7U

Following surely a success in box-office with his “Blood Feast”, HG Lewis pursued with his second released feature “2000 Maniacs”. Again the story plot can be summarized in less than 300 words. This was the first movie I discovered after reading “Mad-Movies”, a French magazine that was initially published in the 1980s and still until now run. The story runs around a group of Yankees diverted into a dead end road to arrive in a ghost town that appear every 100 years to celebrate the anniversary of the massacre of the Southern Confederate town by a squadron of Yankees. The welcomed guests will only realized that the festival organized for them is indeed their death sentence with various death such as one in which a variation of the dunking game in which the dunk pool is replaced by a rock ready to crush its victim. In another one, a drunken victim fail to realize it is attached to four horses ready to split him into four pieces. The final death is about a victim put into a nailed barrel  and throw from the top of the hill. What was interesting was in my original VHS tape, the French soundtrack ripped the soundtrack from Lucio Fulci “l’Aldila” soundtrack.

Although these movies have little gore from what I have grew up with, they still have a place in my movie library as they are spiritual ancestors of the horror movies I have been nurtured.

That was a first short post, very succinct as these movies have little or no substance to talk. Don’t worry some other movies have so much to talk about. Feel free to leave your feedback and comments.