The Strain: A new vision of vampirism


Strain-coverAnyone who’s seen Guillermo del Toro’s recent movies—Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies (and a two-part The Hobbit on the way)—probably expect anything spawned by that mind to be boldly imaginative. Del Toro takes risks and he paints large while paying attention to the most meticulous details.

So when del Toro teamed up with Chuck Hogan to write a vampire trilogy, fans understandably expected something crazy, crazy, crazy good.

With the first part of that trilogy, The Strain, fans do indeed get something good—but it lacks the crazy, crazy, crazy.

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Is your house haunted?

Horror of the “gothic” variety that occupied so much of the conversation between Byron and the Shelleys (these would be the conversations that ultimately gave rise to Frankenstein) has traditionally traded in some easily recognizable tropes. Among the most common are your haunted places. Swamps and moors are always a little scary. Graveyards and crypts, of course. Transylvania.

And then there’s haunted houses. Dark mansions, castles on top of hills. Abandoned homes where terrible things once happened. Subdivisions built on top of Indian burial grounds. And so on. Continue reading

Zombies: The new media darlings


Zombie: Don't worry. Only people with brains get eaten. You're safe.
Zombie: Don’t worry. Only people with brains
get eaten. You’re safe.

They aren’t sexy. They aren’t romantic. They aren’t tragically doomed.

In fact, they’re ravenous, violent, and virtually unstoppable. They ooze all sorts of bodily fluids. And they want to eat your brains.

So how come zombies are getting such mainstream media treatment?

As a culture, we love and loath things that go bump in the night. We have to have boogeymen, for all sorts of reasons. Because they touch deep psychological fears in profound ways, our boogeymen serve as a kind of moral check on behavior that laws and rules just sometimes can’t. At the other end of the spectrum, we seem to have a lot of fun being scared. Boogeymen do that for us, too. Continue reading

Tournament of Rock – Legends: the REM pod

Results: Surprise! The Beatles win! *ahem* Okay, so maybe we all saw that coming. Still, Zappa thumping The Beach Boys this hard for second? Interesting things happen in the battle for second, too – not that it impacts the rest of the competition, of course. The numbers: #1 The Beatles 72%; Frank Zappa 22%; #6 The Beach Boys/Brian Wilson 6%. Fabs advance to the Sweet 16. (By the way – we’ve had a couple of Pope John Pauls. Why no Pope George Ringo?)

Three pods left in the Great 48. So let’s head our search for the greatest band of all time out to the Fillmore region, where the band that defined the Southern Gothic sound for the Alternative era hosts what promises to be a very challenging match. (Once again, let’s see if we can make voters hate themselves…) Continue reading

Fox beats CNN in prime-time news, but so what?

CNN’s prime-time ratings — those hours between 7 and 11 p.m. that command premium advertising rates — have fallen sharply. CNN, reports The New York Times and MSNBC, now trails three of its principal competitors, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and its in-house competitor, HLN (formerly Headline News).

CNN’s ratings in the prime 25-54 demographic fell 77 percent in the last 12 months. Finger-pointers and blame-gamers abound. The Times‘ Bill Carter calls the last-place performance of CNN’s “signature host” Anderson Cooper “alarming” at the 10 p.m. slot. Charles Warner of writes at HuffPo that Fox and MSNBC may have outbid CNN for favorable channel positions. Others, like Bill Gorman of, thinks CNN lost its substantial advantage gained from its political coverage from 2006 to 2008.

But seasoned TV pundits are missing a significant point lost in the blizzard of analyses of the cable news rating wars.
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Two very different climate disruption messages

Most people view climate disruption as a horror that we and the generations before us are about to visit upon our children and grandchildren. And there’s a great deal of truth to this view. The “civilization will end if we don’t stop global warming” approach is ultimately based on negativity, specifically on fear. But as bad as the future could be, fear isn’t the only way to approach talking about climate disruption. There are positive images and positive messages that can be pulled out of climate disruption as well. It is possible to make addressing climate disruption seem fun, even sexy.

Here are two very different, but simultaneously very effective, examples of climate messaging. First, the negative. Continue reading

Scholars & Rogues & Zombies, oh my!


Got zombies on the brain? Well, it’s better than having them eat your brain, so that’s a plus.

Zombies are a hot pop-cultural property these days. Woody Harrelson’s buddy movie Zombieland has been eating up theaters. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies brought Jane Austen back from the dead to become one of the year’s publishing phenoms. Marvel Comics is now on their umpteeth iteration of a Marvel Zombies franchise that, pardon the pun, doesn’t want to die.

While zombies don’t have the long literary tradition of, say, vampires, there’s been plenty of recent zombie-lit out there to feed your brain. Here are a few recent favorites: Continue reading

Exclusive: Pentagon's domestic propaganda program may not have been terminated

Latest breaking news in Raw Story’s investigative series (read Part I and Part II):

Pentagon officials won’t confirm Bush propaganda program ended

The covert Bush administration program that used retired military analysts to generate favorable wartime news coverage may not have been terminated, Raw Story has found.

In interviews, Pentagon officials in charge of the press and community relations offices — which worked in partnership on the military analyst program — equivocated on the subject of whether the program has ended.

Last May, the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General issued a memorandum rescinding a Bush administration investigative report on the retired military analyst program because it “did not meet accepted quality standards for an Inspector General work product.” The now-retracted report had exonerated officials of using propaganda and referred to the program as just “one of many outreach groups.”


The Scarlet NSFW

NSFWThe other day our friend MentalSwitch offered up a delightful little post entitled “Hello Nurse!” It featured a photo of an attractive model dressed as … well, hell, rather than me trying to describe the shot and failing miserably, why don’t you just click on over there and see for yourself. But before you do, please be forewarned that the photo is NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!!!

Ahem. Well, actually, its worksafeness (or unworksafeness thereof) became the topic of some discussion here. Initially the pic was posted without a cut, meaning that the image itself would appear on the front page of S&R. Later, after some complaint and brief deliberations, we moved it behind a cut with the dreaded “NSFW” tag, indicating that the content would most certainly get you fired if it were accidentally viewed by any decent, God-Fearing American® co-worker. And since way too many of our readers work in places where others might be looking over their shoulders, this was a practical concern. As one colleague put it – and we’ll let that colleague name himself if he wants to – “if the wrong person had walked behind me with that image up on my screen, I could have been walked out the door that day, no appeal.” Continue reading

Edgar Allan Poe: there's nothing like a good opening line…

Edgar Allan Poe is – despite or perhaps because of  his proclivity for writing scary stories – one of our most beloved writers. Chief among Poe’s charms for the reader is his ability to grab us with a riveting opening line. As proof of Poe’s rare talent for the stunning opener, here for your Halloween Arts Week pleasure is a sample of great opening lines from the master of terror….From “The Tell Tale Heart”:

“TRUE! – nervous – very, very nervous I am and had been and am; but why will you say I am mad?”

From “The Fall of the House of Usher”:

“DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” Continue reading

A Halloween appreciation of the Christmas movie The Nightmare Before Christmas


nightmareposterWhen most of us think of Halloween movies, we tend to think of horror flicks, psychological thrillers, or bizarre mind-benders. The Nightmare on Elm Street, for example, or What Lies Beneath, or 12 Monkeys. But since 1993, a stop-motion animation musical has become as much a part of American Halloween culture as any horror franchise.

Boys and girls of every age
wouldn’t you like to see something strange
Come with us and you will see,
this our town of Halloween

So begins the opening song of what is perhaps the most misunderstood Christmas movie of all time, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Yes, I’m serious. For all the references to pumpkins, death, trick-or-treating, and the Boogie Man, The Nightmare Before Christmas is actually a Christmas movie. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last 16 years and are unfamiliar with the plot, here’s the basics (spoiler warning). Continue reading

NASA launches its first new rocket in three decades

STS-1, the first space shuttle mission, launched on April 12, 1981. At that point, the shuttle was already several years old, and the original designs stretch back to the early 1970’s. The shuttle then was designed using the same basic technology that was used to go to the Moon, and while it’s been updated several times since, it wasn’t until 2007 that the shuttle’s computer software was updated to the point that the computers wouldn’t require a reboot if the shuttle was in orbit over the New Year.

So the first test launch of NASA’s first new rocket in three decades is a big deal. And today, the Ares 1-X rocket, carrying a dummy second stage and packed with 700 sensors to gather flight data, launched successfully from Kennedy.

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Tournament of Rock – Legends: The Beatles pod

Results: Not only was this one of the tightest contests yet in terms of victory margin, it was also a case where the arguments to be made in favor of one artist or another were anything but definitive. In the end, Elvis nudges The Ramones. Hey, we asked for drama. The numbers: #4 Elvis Costello 43%; #5 The Ramones 39%; ZZ Top 18%. Mr. McManus advances to the Sweet 16.

All the drama is wearing us down, so move our search for the greatest band of all time to the top of the Hollywood Bowl region where four lads from Liverpool begin their ritual march to a preordained coronation. Or do they? Let’s see if we can’t make it a little hard on them, at least. Continue reading

"It's alive! It's alive!"—even after all these years


ItsAliveOctober 30 is Frankenstein Friday.

Like a lot of kids, I could not get enough of monster movies. On Saturday afternoons, I would hunker down on my living room couch to watch Creature Double-Feature on our small black-and-white TV.

I loved Godzilla, Gorgo, the giant ants of Them!, War of the Worlds, and those delightful shock-fests from England’s Hammer Studios with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

But none were better than Universal’s classics: The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Bela Lugosi as Dracula; Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man; and of course, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. Watching Colin Clive scream, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” remains one of the most thrilling moments of movie magic ever filmed.

Those movies were so creepy because, unlike today’s horror films, they left almost everything to my imagination—and my imagination can be a whole lot scarier than anything Hollywood can dish out. It’s no wonder audiences back then found those classic monster movies shocking and truly scary.

But the beauty of a story like Frankenstein is that it succeeds on so many levels. Continue reading

Unsolicited Theater Review: Enron

Enron, which is packing the Royal Court Theatre nightly before it heads off to the West End at highly inflated ticket prices, is worth it. It’s a bit disenheartening that Lucy Prebble, whose second play it is, can turn out such an accomplished piece of work at such a tender age—she’s all of 28. But it’s great theatre—it covers the bases, it’s pretty funny throughout and highly funny in spots, and if it overdoes some of the symbolism at time, it captures how Enron fit into the American imagination of the time. And it moves right along, without a dead spot all evening. Prebble understands that Enron is a quintessentially American story, one of a business so intertwined with politics and funny money and that curious belief in unfettered markets that no one ever seems to learn from. That she is able to turn this story of a confused mixture of greed and ideology into a fine theatrical evening is a considerable accomplishment. Continue reading