Tremors (1990)

Rating: FR.

Burt and Heather Gummer

Burt and Heather Gummer

There is one reason to watch Tremors, and that reason is:

The Gummers!

Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) are the quintessential, fringe-dwelling, paranoiac prepping couple. They’re a caricature of a couple designed for a B movie, but they’re also quite possibly the most entertaining version of the pair we may know, or even be a part of,  in real life.

When their podunk mining town in the desert is besieged by giant space slugs or something, the wisdom of their paranoia is suddenly obvious. As the other podunk townsfolk climb up telephone poles and engage in a string of Wile E. Coyote type schemes to outwit the slugs, Burt and Heather calmly retreat to their bomb shelter, arsenal and rec room and get ready to go slug hunting.

Broke into the wrong god damned rec room, didn't you, you bastard!

“Broke into the wrong god damned rec room, didn’t you, you bastard!”

In the end even the best laid plans can’t be perfect, and the couple’s castle in the sand more or less falls short. As Burt puts it:

Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter, bomb shelter… underground, god damned monsters.

You can’t be prepared for everything, folks, but you can damned well try!

In the general world of cult “horror” films, Tremors isn’t bad. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward head up a cast of fairly able second stringers as townspeople. The story line is decent, and the special effects are passable. The Gummers are a deal clincher for the survival-minded viewer, and should put this one on every prepper’s list.

Hell (2011)

Rating: OK.Hell is a film about the end of the world following some catastrophic solar malfunction, but it’s at least as much an art-house  horror flick. Initially it comes across as a Teutonic rendition of The Road (2009), which is the most relentlessly pessimistic SHTF flick I’ve seen to date and one I’d resolved never to watch again even though I do own a copy. About halfway through, the apocalypse of Hell gives way to horror themes as a band of sullen cannibals try to abduct and slaughter the main characters.

Hell (2011)The overall vision of apocalypse in Hell is credible, but it’s a tedious and plodding sort of apocalypse. People are pretty much scurrying around in the dark, or else wrapped in sheets and ski goggles so they don’t burst into flame from the intense daylight. There’s naturally no water because it stopped raining after the sun malfunction, and so the main characters are  pretty much looking for a drink whenever they’re not being chased by the cannibals.

Hell (2011)The trouble with Hell is that it was made in Germany, about Germans, and filmed in German. As such, there’s just the confluence of ennui and anomie that one might expect of a German hell. There are few clear connections among the characters, and with the exception of the two sisters at the center of the story none of them seem to like each other.

They don’t so much dislike each other either. It’s more that they’re inherently unsympathetic, and have just barely been lifted out of apathy by the critical need that has been inflicted on them. This makes it a little difficult to relate to them, at least from an American perspective.

The film absolutely does not embrace the full potential of the genre, but neither is it boring. There’s a fair amount of action, and the characters try to kill each other off a lot with hammers and jackknives (no guns in the European apocalypse, you know). Hell was sitting in line for a WTF? rating until the last twenty minutes or so when the main characters were injected with an adequate dose of humanity as a closer. It’s worth a look if you like SHTF stuff.

Commune (2005)

Rating: WTF?Commune takes us inside the Black Bear Ranch, a utopian hippy commune someplace out in the sticks in California in the 1960’s. Most of the information is drawn from archival footage and the reflections of the now aging hippies themselves, who have long since left the commune to pursue more individualistic hippy life-trajectories.

While I can understand the impulse that might drive one off into the woods in the hills, a flight from the oppressive capitalist superstructure into the arms of an oppressive collectivist commune is, charitably speaking, counterintuitive.

Commune

Commune basically confirms every stereotype of hippies as self-absorbed malcontents that anyone in the mainstream might tend to harbor. Jonathan Berman is the producer, writer and director, and he is in no way to blame for the apparently negative portrayal. This is not a hatchet job. The interviewees are allowed to look stupid, insane, and absurd on their own terms and in their own words.

There’s a lot of running around naked with goats, and toothbrush sharing that goes on in the film. The participants in the commune get so wrapped up in cogitating on the collapse of the military-industrial complex that they let the goats raise their kids for a while. A freaky cult turns up at some point and some of the hippy kids got exported to India or someplace for some reason best not speculated on. Then the hippies got all bent out of shape and kicked the cult guys out. All-in-all, Melissa Harris-Perry would do well to study this example of collective childcare.

In among all of that insanity, the hippies somehow survived way up there in the mountains. As it will do, living in the margins of society imposed a practical sort of reality on even the most hard-headed of the bunch. In the words of former commune occupant Creek Hanauer, everyone had to “basically chop wood, haul water, cook food, or become a dead Zen guy.”  And that was truly the only redeeming feature of this particular commune experiment insofar as I could tell.

By all means, do check it out if you find old hippies entertaining, or if you just want the to see a stack of freaky, leftist ideology driven full force into the California wilderness. I can’t say that Commune is uninteresting, but I can say that it is ridiculous.

After Armageddon (2011)

Rating: OK.After Armagddon is the documentary that doomsday enthusiasts have been waiting for. All of the right elements are there to paint a compelling image of the end of the world as we know it. Unfortunately it ends up being sort of a tepid dishrag of a production, and I’m pretty sure that the fault lies in the direction

After ArmageddonThe documentary takes us into a hypothetical breakdown of society after an imagined influenza pandemic. In order to humanize the scenario, it is structured around the journey of one fictional, “normal” family through the apocalypse, from the first sneeze to the last staph infection after the antibiotics run out. This is just the thing to do, but the members of this family are dismally boring, to the point that it’s hard to care whether they make it or not.

The action in After Armagddon is punctuated with interjections from a host of experts, and most of them actually are experts of one sort or another. There are lots of academics who have presumably studied disasters, and they are generally making reasonable observations in as dull a manner as possible. The director has mixed in a few people of questionable expertise who spout off their opinions with a bit more vigor, but since they are all put on the same level in the film it’s hard to tell a good source of information from a bad one.

The actual dramatizations of survival-type scenarios are middling at best. Some seem kind of plausible, but others are outright misleading. In one case, for example, an expert explains that you can boil water to make it biologically safe and the scene cuts to the family boiling rusty water drained from a car radiator. After they cook it, it’s miraculously clear and palatable and that just doesn’t happen. Never mind that the boiling does nothing for whatever chemicals might leech out of an old radiator. That bit of miscommunication could actually get someone killed.

All in all, the video is kind of interesting. I’ve watched it a couple of times. Still, it’s not a brilliant reference, nor is it particularly entertaining. It’s kind of a miss, but if you’re into critically speculating on the end of the world you won’t want to miss it.

20 Years After (2008)

Rating: WTF?20 Years After starts off as an interesting construction of the apocalypse. Some guy, Michael, is broadcasting over the shortwave to an apparently barren and irradiated landscape somewhere in the former U.S.A. The last pregnant girl turns up, living in a burned-out basement with her mother. They all go on an adventure to find some other guy who’s broadcasting across the desolate, irradiated landscape with a crazy old retired history professor with a melted ear. I’m on board to this point.

Creepy witch with poisonous scissors.

Creepy witch with poisonous scissors.

Then it gets weird in the 20 Years After universe. The crazy old ex-history professor turns out to be magical. Then there’s a magical witch living somewhere deep in an old industrial complex. The magical witch runs around poisoning people and scheming to thieve the world’s last baby away from the world’s last pregnant girl. I don’t get that bit at all. Stealing babies in the apocalypse is completely beyond me. There’s more to it than that, but that’s enough to give you an idea of the general weirdness of this piece of work.

All things considered, the post-apocalyptic landscape is fairly convincing. There are a few scenes in the first half of the film that give you that inspiring TEOTWAWKI kind of feeling. The actors are fairly watchable, if not entirely interesting. If you’re really jonesing for an end of the world flick that you haven’t seen, 20 Years After might fit the bill in the moment.

On the other hand, the people responsible for this flick (Jim Torres and Ron Harris, I suppose) have committed one of the most egregious atrocities in the apocalyptic genre: they’ve turned Armageddon into a faerie tale. The 1994 miniseries The Stand, based on the Stephen King novel, was guilty of exactly the same thing, but with better actors, writing, and direction. There’s no brave new world in 20 Years After. It’s a small story which breaks the rules of the genre and comes out the worse for the effort.

The Walking Dead S3E16: Welcome to the Tombs

Rating: FR.The Season 3 finale was awesome? Carl’s an unrepentant monster. Rick’s insane, but tactically competent. Glenn and Maggie are space ninjas. Who cares whatever else happened?

MILTON ATE ANDREA!

Forgive my schadenfreude. I’ve been on the fence about continuing to follow The Walking Dead since about the middle of the second season, and the messy excision of Andrea, one of the most persistently irritating characters on television, goes a long way toward making peace. The underlying problem remains, of course, that the writers seem intent on systematically deconstructing every character until he or she is a quivering mass of insufferable twat. I suspect that this is not intentional, but the result of tone- deafness and a massive overestimation of their own subtlety.

Zombie Milton

Zombie Milton

To make a completely unfair comparison, the writers seem to be reaching for the sort of compelling moral ambivalence that we see in Breaking Bad, a show in which characters are so impeccably developed that is doesn’t matter which side they’re on. You can’t do better than Gus Fring or Walter White where fundamental slipperiness is concerned, and you certainly can’t do as well in the universe of The Walking Dead as it now stands.

In this show we need a good guy to come through for us unambiguously in a way that we can both believe and stomach. Frank Darabont’s Rick Grimes could do that for us, and drove it home in each of six short episodes during Season 1. The Rick we have now is the product of nearly thirty episodes of atrophy. He can’t seem to get out of his own way most of the time, and is continually being pushed around by an eleven-year-old. Sack up already. It’s the fucking apocalypse.

Rick Grimes in Season 3

Rick Grimes in Season 3

This finale had its moments. Even though we had to suffer through a twenty minute foot fetish video to get to it, the fact that MILTON ATE ANDREA was awesome. There were a couple of memorable scenes with the Governor that would have ably solidified his badass villain status had he not cried so much and gotten his ass kicked by Michonne earlier in the season. They’re working on making Michonne into more of a human being and less of a killer robot, and Carl has been almost completely rehabilitated since the nadir of his youthful character arc last season.

We’ll see what Season 4 has to offer in the fall.