This is Halloween

This will be the first of two posts that you will see today.

I spent a lot of weeks before and during Halloween differently. When I was a child I would be inundated with television specials, movies, school events, and trick-or-treating. As an adolescent, I spent some time with my group of friends. In my early adulthood I spent a lot of it by myself trying to remember how happy I used to be and imagining all the other people who were having fun that I did not. I spent the rest of my young adulthood, alternatively, with friends and sometimes on my own.

I almost went to a Halloween party last year but I didn’t. I was too depressed and I did what I often do in that state: sleep and work.

This past while I’ve been doing something different for Halloween. Instead of wandering around outside at night in the dark aimlessly, or watching television, or hanging out with friends and lovers I have been busy.

I have been busy.

Last week or so, I covered six films in the 2014 Toronto After Dark for GEEKPR0N. I even covered an extra day, a Wednesday, so I could watch one film that was recommended to me. Those of you that read this Blog or my work at GEEKPR0N already know about this. I wrote reviews on The Drownsman, Wolves, Late Phases, Wyrmwood, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and Why Horror?

And it was difficult. There were many times I thought I could just watch the films, then go straight home, and write something out that night. But even though I got wiped out, it was totally worth it. The irony is that once, long ago, I was told that I should write reviews for movies — or movies like these — and I didn’t think I was qualified to do so. It’s only in relatively recent times that I’ve realized that the only way to be qualified to do anything is to make yourself so, and start to believe it.

I got some other things published in honour of Halloween as well. Not only did I write a nice short article on the end of Kris Straub’s Broodhollow Book Two, but I got to examine and see just how a creepypasta created by Eric Heisserer the subreddit no/sleep truly lures readers into fear and trepidation. If you have read my articles on creepypastas, you know something of what you might be in for when you read this particular piece of mine.

But I think there is one achievement in particular that I can really be proud of mentioning. Do you recall, that week or so ago before I went off the Mythic Bios grid again, that I was doing another interview: this one live and in-person? Well, with the help and guidance of GEEKPR0N and Toronto After Dark organization … the following actually occurred.

David Hayter Fav and Retweet

Not only did David Hayter, the screen writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake favourite and retweet my review of his movie Wolves I also got to interview him before Werewolf Night at the Toronto After Dark.

You can find my interview with David Hayter right here.

So that has been my time leading up to Halloween so far. The rest of what I intend to do, however, is as follows. Later this evening I am going to the Silver Snail Halloween Party: the same one I didn’t end up attending last year. I don’t have a costume idea as of yet and I’m having some difficulty finding make-up after my last misadventure but I’m going and to anyone living in Toronto or nearby, I hope that you will join me. It’s organized by GEEKPR0N, in part, and it makes some pretty awesome parties and I don’t intend to miss this one this time around.

The next day I’m going to the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery to pay a visit to Drawing For Deb: In Support of Epilepsy Toronto. There will be signings and a 12-Hour Comics Marathon: Special Edition there to raise money to combat epilepsy which claimed the life of Debra Jane Shelly: a well-known friend of the comics community and someone that I only began to know when I first started coming to the Lounge. She was an awesome person and there will be some good people there. I’ve realized long ago that I am just not an artist with pictures, so I will be attending to pay my respects and I may not be there the entire day.

And then the next day I will be going to Horror-Rama: an all-horror convention where I want to explore and particularly meet Jovanka Vuckovic: the brilliant upcoming director of the Jacqueline Ess film adaptation.

Then somewhere, somehow I will catch up with my Doctor Who recaps and next week get back to my fiction writing and probably sleep for a few centuries as I am bloody exhausted.

So this is both what I have been doing, and what I am going to do. It’s funny. When I was reviewing Why Horror? I started thinking about just how it is effective. When I was a child I read many abridged versions of horror stories, listened to and read written down folktales and urban myths. And I would spend time in the now-defunct Hollywood Movies store reading the backs of horror film VHS tapes. I would attempt to avoid watching them, scared of being caught in the web of their details and becoming committed, but so very fascinated with what I might find.

Not much has changed. I think the reason that horror is so fascinating is the fact that when you look at all the gore, the grisliness, and the uncanny you see what you are not and you also get to see a bit of what you are. You are ultimately safe and in sensible surroundings, or so you think, and it gives you a rush of life — of vitality — in the autumn.

That’s why some people have sex after watching horror. That’s why some people have an urge to create stories and study mythologies after watching horror. That’s why people gather around their friends and celebrate their grisly façades: the orange light in the darkness. That’s ultimately why I’m rambling right now.

I’ve spent my life fascinated by, and avoiding life. But it lures you in. It is the ultimate horror but it is also a spectacle, and best experienced in good company. I hope that, today in sharing all of this with you, that I got to be the latter.

Happy Halloween, my friends.

From The Wolf’s Mouth: An Interview With David Hayter – TADFF 2014

It was just before Werewolf Night at the 2014 Toronto After Dark where GEEKPR0N met with David Hayter the writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake to have a chat about his new film Wolves

GEEKPR0N: What gave you the idea to make Wolves? Where did it come from? What were your inspirations?

David Hayter: Well. So people came to me wanting to do a werewolf movie. I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to do or something I could even pull off. I started to think about it, and I started to talk to people who wanted to see a good werewolf movie. And I started thinking about what had been done before and what makes a good creature film and I feel like the creature has to be used as a metaphor for something human: to tie it to us and make it feel real.

And I started thinking about the time in my life when I was going to high school in Canada actually, when I was about seventeen. And I was filled with rage and violence. And you’re dealing with sex for the first time: and, you know, all these crazy and roiling feelings, and you become almost a monster to yourself, or at least I did. But whereas in most werewolf films the goal is to destroy the creature, if the metaphor is this unformed sort of rage within yourself your goal is not to destroy that but to control it and to focus it into more positive aspects: so like protecting your family or the woman you love or whatever. I started thinking that’s kind of an interesting take on it I haven’t really seen before, so in a way it is sort of semi-autobiographical.

Cayden Wolves

GP: Yeah. You mentioned in another interview that there were some semi-autobiographical elements in Wolves. I was curious about what those may be.

DH: When I was seventeen we took a tour of Toronto Harbour for the Prom. And I got into a fight — into an argument –with a football player and he took a swing at me and I knocked him down and then I got into a fight with pretty much the rest of the football team and they had to turn the boat around. So at the beginning of the film you see [the protagonist Cayden] beating up a football player. And there is also a scene with him in a car making out with his girlfriend and where that occurred, where we shot that, was five hundred yards from my old highschool on little lane where I used to go with girls to park and make out. There was a lot that came from my life:  from my journey, strangely enough.

GP: That’s really interesting. I actually saw an advance copy of the film, so when you started mentioning all those scenes, I just thought “Wow: this sounds very familiar.” 

DH: Yeah. I mean a lot of that stuff really happened to me and I got expelled back in the day, got yelled at by the principal and all these things. I wasn’t necessarily a wolf, but I was a fairly vicious young man: for a short period of time.

GP: Yeah. Well, I guess one part of the movie that sticks out me is the idea of what is the most vicious part of the werewolf: the animal part or the human part. If anything, the animal part is the most honest. 

DH: Yeah. That’s right. And that’s really sort of the point of the film which is wolves themselves are not inherently evil. I mean wolves are very noble creatures who mate for life, only kill for food or defence like I say in the movie. And yeah, so it’s the human side that dictates whether or not the creature is going to be evil, which, again, is something that I don’t think has been done in this genre before.

So, you know, the idea was to create a wolf who by the end is a hero and has abilities that hopefully, like in a vampire movie the audience members say “I want that,” or “you know I wish I could have that power” which you don’t typically get in movies like this: usually werewolves are just horrible, ugly, hairy lunatics.

Cayden Wolf Powers

GP: And yeah, it’s interesting that even when you look at the wolf in mythology, there are various different facets of that, but the whole idea is that the wolf is supposed to eat the sun even: while at the same the sun is supposed to come out again from the maw of the wolf. 

DH: Right. You got Romulus and Remus raised by wolves. You know, they are not an intrinsically evil creature. They are a frightening creature to have to face if you are out in the wild. But I find them very noble and very beautiful and I wanted to bring that aspect to the film.

GP: I see. You said in your San Diego Comic Con 2013 panel that you watched a lot of werewolf films to study the strengths and weaknesses of your particular wolves?

DH: Well, I feel like An American Wolf in London is the greatest werewolf film ever made. You know I think the creatures hold up to this day and the design work is just astounding and the movie itself is just a miracle. There’s the dream sequence with the Nazi wolf men who come in and shoot his family and do all these horrific things. And the design on those was so striking and spectacular and each one was different and individual and that was a great inspiration to me on how to execute the design of a wolf man.

American Werewolf In London Nazi Werewolves

And there were a number of other movies I looked at on elements for what I didn’t want in the movie: so like the long nails or the pointed up ears or the snout. These are elements which I felt altered the human body in ridiculous ways so I wanted to minimize these elements as much as possible and come up with my own.

GP: I found it interesting how you were talking about your make-up team and how they found that nice balance between the elegance and grace of a wolf and the symmetry and proportions of a human being. I think the design that best strikes me as fulfilling that is the character of Angelina. 

DH:  They made her a whole wolf body and wolf breasts. Yeah that was the goal. I wanted the first werewolf love scene to be on camera and it’s hard when you’re covering up a woman with hair to retain beauty. But wolves are beautiful and so we worked very hard to retain her femininity in the execution of that and I think that Dave and Lou Elsey, who are academy award-winning creature designers, executed that in a pretty beautiful way. But I think I wanted them to all have this beauty, with the exception of Wild Joe who’s pretty twisted, but I wanted them to have this elegance and power and beauty that I think wolves have in real life.

He wanted sleek!

GP: Certainly even in the case of Wild Joe, you can see the definite personality there and the distinction between the other ones. For instance, you can see that Wild Joe looks different from Connor.

DH: Yeah, Wild Joe has serious problems. Now the other thing we did which was very important to me was a lot of the facial effects are swept back from the face as opposed to down and pointy and swept back. And the masks are glued down where the muscles of the face are so that when they act their expressions come through. There is one point where Lucas hears something devastating, I won’t say what it is, but his face falls and you can see his expression come over him and you see it through the layers of makeup and the latex. The makeup team did that well.

Cayden Wolf Wolves

GP:  Yes, the expressions of the characters definitely came through well. There are many fans of your voice-acting: especially with regards to your role as Solid Snake in Metal Gear. So I just want to clarify. Did you actually make the wolf sounds behind the characters’ voices in Wolves

DH: I did. That’s a very good question and you’re the very first person to ask that. And yes. I do the backing growls on Lucas [Till’s] wolf dialogue and some of his snarling and growling. And there’s an incredible voice and creator actor named Dee Bradley Baker who does Connor’s — Jason Momoa’s character. And Jennifer Hale — who’s my friend and one of the top female voice actresses in the world — does Merritt [Patterson’s]. Yeah, there are a few times, and particularly, where Lucas’ girlfriend punches him in the face and he growls: and it sounds just like Solid Snake. Not only do I do that, but I play two different newscasters in the film so you hear my voice throughout.

So the wolves’ voices are made up of the actors doing their dialogue with me, Bradley, and Jennifer doing growling accents and a combination of animals that were put together. I think we used gorilla snarls for Wild Joe, a lion for Connor and actual wolf sounds for Lucas. It’s a really cool process putting together those vocals.

GP: This isn’t your first time in horror film. Last year you worked in a movie called The Devil’s Mile. At the same time, you’ve also written the first two X-Men movies, The Scorpion King, and Watchmen. What was it like switching from these other genres of film as an actor and writer to the horror genre as a director? 

DH: Well, you know, it’s funny Wolves isn’t really a horror film to me. I mean, hopefully there are scary elements to it, but I look at it more as an action film. I think one of the things I learned is if you are going to do a murder scene: more blood … like lots and lots of blood. You really can’t have enough.

And you know, it’s like everything else. From an actor’s perspective you are always trying to avoid getting the blood in your eyes and your mouth. But beyond that a story is a story. And every story I do relies on tension: whether it’s action or horror or suspense. It’s sort of all the same tools. It’s great  fun. I mean: the freedom to do a horror movie is really fun: where you can mess people up and do terrible things and sort of check your morality at the door. That’s a very cool aspect of it.

GP: I believe, in another interview you gave, that you thought of Wolves as a hero’s journey and there was one scene in particular that caught my eye where Cayden, John, and his wife Clara are watching The Lone Ranger on the television and I thought, “Oh god: you totally went there.”

DH: Yeah well, we needed something on the TV. I’d written that something was on the TV but we couldn’t get it. Anything you show on the TV we have to clear. And then a production assistant brought me that clip and said “I think we can get the clearance on this.” I actually had to get clearance from the Lone Ranger’s daughter and Jay Silverheels’  — Tonto’s — family, to use that clip. I wrote them a really nice letter and they let me use that clip. It’s a funny clip but it also represents the idea of “I’ll shoot if I have to, but not to kill.” And that’s the hero’s dilemma. When you’re fighting a murderous group of people how do you defeat them without sacrificing your own morality? In a weird way that is kind of what Cayden’s facing.

The Lone Ranger

GP: Exactly. I mean, in addition to the reference towards the Lone Ranger’s weapon of choice, it was a very nice bit of foreshadowing with regards to Cayden’s choices: of dealing the beast inside of him and his own sense of morality when dealing with opponents who are also beasts but have no such compunctions. I mean, what do you do in those kinds of situations?

DH: Right and what do you do when it’s a life and death situation? I mean, you don’t want to kill but sometimes it’s got to be done and even the Lone Ranger had to face that. And plus I wanted the film to be funny in places and it was a fun place to put that. It’s also sort of the show that Tollerman would watch — an old farmer out in the middle of nowhere — just putting on the old Lone Ranger show.

GP: Based on how you ended the film, is there room for a sequel?

DH: I think so. Yeah. We discussed Wolves in the city and how we would bring back some of the people. At the end teeing them up to go off to the larger world and indicating to the audience that there is a larger world with these people out there. So yeah: there’s certainly room for a sequel if people are interested.

I suppose sometimes someone just knows you.

GP: If only to go further “back east,” as you put it.

DH: Yeah. Well, we haven’t even gone into the West coast wolves. We can do a battle reminiscent of the rap battles of the nineties.

GEEKPR0N would like to take this opportunity to thank David Hayter for his time as well as the Programming Manager of the Toronto After Dark Christian Burgess for arranging this interview. Wolves will have limited release in select theatres November 14, 2014. 

Wolves Poster

Welcome To The World of Wolves: At The 2014 Toronto After Dark

What are wolves? Are they solitary predators that attack the weak and helpless? Are they a pack of monsters? Or are they a family that merely tries to survive their environment? David Hayter’s Wolves explores these ideas well and, dare I say, quite subversively.

Of course werewolves are subversive in themselves. I mean, think about it: historically they are generally portrayed as human beings with animals inside of them, or at least as something Other that only comes out under a full moon. They are the hunger, the passion, and the violence that are parts of us and the natural world that we keep at bay until such a time as they have to be unleashed. But that, of course, is not the whole story and I will get back to that thought soon, I promise.

Wolves starts off not unlike the 1985 comedy film Teen Wolf. You have a popular student named Cayden, who seems to be a fine specimen of a young man in all ways — a good student and football player — who finds out that there is a beast inside of him. However, there are no kindly secret werewolf parents to guide him or girls attracted to his occasional hairiness. There is fear though: and blood, and horror. The first part of the film is like watching the wolf take off his human skin, his bland human life, or — if you’d like — stepping out of the sheep’s clothing and leaving a great sense of bloodstained shame, and a fear of one’s self.

It’s like watching teenage angst: only with the trappings of tropes shed and murder.

Naturally, Cayden wants to know where he comes from and what he actually is. And then we are introduced to the small town of Lupine Ridge. And David Hayter continues to play with your expectations. He presents you with the first-person narrative voice-over and perspective of an otherwise decent young man who seems to have committed horrible atrocities when he isn’t himself, and then a town of seemingly hostile people in a bar who, well, you expect to act in a certain way.

Frankly, I was surprised that Cayden didn’t get into a physical fight right away in that setting and leave battered and bleeding at the onset. And I haven’t gotten to the character of Connor yet. Connor, for all intents and purposes, pretty much rules Lupine Ridge as something of an Alpha Male. Jason Momoa certainly, in terms of physicality, fits into that role but even he is subversive.

For instance, you might expect Connor to be a thug or a beast that pummels and rips apart anyone in his way off the bat. But you would be wrong. Instead, Connor watches. He watches. He waits and he extends all of his senses out and tries to reason things through his mind even as he subtly intimidates. And for an obvious antagonist who could easily fit the thug mold, Connor has, if you will pardon the pun, a rather biting wit and a sense of honour and personal rules not unlike someone of the Lawful Evil variety. You can see a little bit of Khal Drogo in Momoa’s mien in addition to some StarGate Atlantis Ronen with his sarcasm. He does terrible things but, as you watch the film, you will begin to figure out why. Momoa’s performance as Connor is impressive and entertaining.

Just don't make him angry. You won't like him when he's angry.
Just don’t make him angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.

I also like the addition of Stephen McHattie as the farmer John Tollerman. I admit when I first saw him in the bar I didn’t know whether he was a friend or foe. He was once Gabriel: an antagonist in the Beauty and Beast television series. So in a way it’s fitting that he would be dealing with a beast of a different kind in this story and he really grows on you. And you know, you definitely know when you see the enigmatic one-eyed, metal-braced Wild Joe that there is going to be some craziness and there is something strange about that man.

Some dogs don't like to follow orders. Sometimes they just like to do what they want.
Some dogs don’t like to follow orders. Sometimes they just like to do what they want.

I think I would have liked to see more character development with the female character and interest Angelina and some of the other characters. Certainly, at first she does seem very resigned to being “mated with” by Connor as only other “Pureborn” werewolf in town, though — granted — she is only doing so to make sure he doesn’t kill her loved ones, and somehow ends up liking Cayden for some reason: as what seems to be a stereotypical love interest. And while she starts off as far more advanced than Cayden is in knowing who she is, she ends up falling a bit into the powerful female assisting the protagonist trope. Still, I do appreciate the fact that Angelina sets a lot of facts straight for Cayden. She has roamed these woods, metaphorically or otherwise, before and her insights make you begin to doubt some of Cayden’s own perceptions of things: particularly about himself.

I suppose sometimes someone just knows you.
I suppose sometimes someone just knows you.

But I think what really strikes me about this film is how Hayter handles werewolves. He starts us off making us think they are monsters because of their bestial nature. We find out about the differences between Mutts (who are humans affected by the lycanthropic bites of werewolves and are always weaker than real werewolves) and Pureborns (who are born werewolves). You can also observe that even in their human forms there are tells: such as the occasional luminescent glint in their eyes, demonstrations of acute senses as well as extraordinary reflexes and strength. In addition you begin to realize that there is a difference between werewolves that stay as wolves and those that have stayed in their human forms for quite some time.

In addition, Dave and Lou Elsey are masters of makeup. They manage to combine the grace and elegance of a wolf and the symmetry and proportions of the human form.

In other words, Dave and Lou Elsey make these film werewolves  distinct and beautiful.
In other words, Dave and Lou Elsey make these film werewolves distinct and beautiful.

And David Hayter plays with film expectations of the werewolf trope. I like how werewolves apparently come from “back east”:  seemingly a reference to their origins in Eastern European folklore for this film’s purposes. Yet I think my truly favourite scene was when John, his wife, and Cayden are watching television and The Lone Ranger is playing. If you didn’t think Hayter was winking at you before, he definitely does so at that point.

And just wait until you see what comes from that.

This is actually a good point to get into one other aspect of Hayter’s werewolves: mainly their nature. One expectation of the werewolf is that it is their wolf nature that ultimately makes them into monsters. Time and again we horror film watchers see this primal instinct destroy humanity and cause nothing but suffering in its wake.

But what if it isn’t the animal — the wolf — that is the monster?

If you look at ancient werewolf folklore, werewolves were often depicted as humans — sometimes witches and sorcerers —  that took on wolf skins and committed horrible acts of cannibalism and murder. Human minds, twisted by their greed, lust, and madness do horrific things. Wolves are generally more straightforward and attack humans when they are attacked, sick, or starving. Humans kill for power and revenge.

He will make you wish that he just ripped you apart.
He will make you wish that he just ripped you apart.

Think about that when you see the end of the film. Think about what you actually see in the film. And then remember something else. Remember that Wolves, like its lycanthropes, has more than one skin and it doesn’t always show you its entire story … until something goads it into raw and bloody revelation.