Favorite Moments: ‘Conan the Librarian’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Scene

Why it’s great

I’ve written before about my love of Fish Out Of Water humor, which makes this scene from ‘UHF’ one of my favorites from the film. Not only do we have a giant, muscle-bound barbarian plucked out of the dark ages and in the modern era (the 1980’s), but he also has a job that’s one of the least suited for his particular skills.

While having people from different time periods dropped into the modern age is always great for comedy, extra humor can be gained when they get modern jobs that don’t always mesh with their talents and abilities. Even better is when they throw themselves into those jobs without hesitation, striving to do their best. When you combine that formula with the almost endless types of characters from history to choose from, you’ve got a formula for comedy gold.

 

Favorite Moments: Soaking Vengeance

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

Ah, the Noir film: A genre unafraid to portray the dark, seedy underbelly of humanity, a genre where hope dies in the drains, bloated and soaked with the rain of an uncaring sky… which means it’s a good idea to have an umbrella in hand.

Though it’s astonishingly short (5 seconds), ‘Soaking Vengeance’ features my favorite type of comedy: Fish out of water. In this case, it’s the hard-boiled guy heading out into the darkened night with a scowl on his face, and a bright, blue umbrella in hand. The contrasts between the dark tone, the childish umbrella, and the dramatic music makes a strong case for two storytelling points:

*Any dramatic character becomes hilarious when wielding something made for a child.

*The Noir genre can be a gold mine for parody, especially if their tough guys stay tough, no matter how ridiculous things get around them.

Perfect Moments: ‘Combat Rangers!’

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

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The Video:

Fedex’s ‘Combat Rangers’ commercial.

 

Why it’s Perfect

There are some moments in media that beg for deeper explanation, moments that causes us to pause and think deeply on why they move us, prompting lengthy soul-searching in an attempt to better understand ourselves and our desires, our frailties and vices. From such deep prompting, growth and understanding can result, and possibly even enlightenment as we come to understand our place in the cosmos, and what we can do to contribute to it… Or we can just laugh at the sight of muscular toy soldiers going into war wearing tutus and wedding dresses while wielding handbags and umbrellas.

I remember watching this commercial as a kid back in the mid 90’s; back then, I had little comprehension of shipping, manufacturing, and the unseen side of the retail industry, but I didn’t care, as I thought the Combat Rangers were hilarious. Over twenty years later, they still are, and this remains one of my favorite commercials for its use of humor to illustrate what could happen if a mistake is made in shipping goods from overseas. Most of that humor comes from the sheer absurdity of warriors charging into battle wearing attire and weapons so inappropriate it’s absurd, making it an excellent example of ‘fish out of water’ comedy that I love so much: Someone or something taken into a situation that they have no experience or business being in, and doing their best to make it work. In this instance, men dressed in women’s clothing, yet still charging into battle.

To take this idea to it’s logical extreme, imagine how ridiculous, yet hilarious it would be for any modern war movie to have it’s soldiers wearing wedding dresses into combat. ‘Hunter Killer’ may have gotten triple its box office revenue if Gerard Butler and the Navy SEALS were wearing pink ballerina outfits as they battle to save the Russian president. It would be a comedy goldmine.

The very best commercials stay with you years after you’ve seen them, and long after their products have left the market. ‘Combat Rangers’ easily earns its place among those hallowed ads… and I have to confess, that squishy mud sound effect six seconds in never fails to make me laugh.

Favorite Moments: ‘The Shining Recut’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

‘The Shining Recut’

Why it’s Great

Ah, Halloween. The most wonderful time of year for people who love the supernatrual, the spooky, and the macabre. This is the holiday when Jason, Freddy, Leatherface, and all the other malevolent legends of pop culture get to enjoy the limelight, and when our favorite horror films are popped into the DVD player or streamed online. It’s a celebration of all things terrifying… but instead of posting a video showcasing that terror, let’s go with something a bit different… turning one of those horror films into a feel-good family film!

‘The Shining Recut’ is arguably the video that launched the ‘recut trailer’ genre, and is still one of the best. The humor of seeing a dark, creepy film turned into a feel-good funfest cannot be overestimated, especially knowing the context of all the scenes used in the clip, and imagining just what ‘The Shining’ would be like in this alternate version, where Jack, Wendy, and Danny come together as a loving family who overcome all their hardships in life… instead of, you know, freezing to death in the show and enduring permanent psychological trauma.

I think one of the great pleasures of Halloween is taking icons and beings who scare us and making them harmless and fun, if only for a day, and one of the best ways to counter that fear is to turn it into something funny. Where we would otherwise run and hide from a maniac with an axe, or a chainsaw, or an alien who wants to eat us, we render them harmless through the power of comedy. And maybe that’s what Halloween is really about: Gaining mastery over the powers of the night… well, that, and filling our arteries with sugar.

Happy Halloween!

 

What we can learn from: ‘Every 90’s Commercial Ever’

Halloween’s only a week away, and the internet is in full swing with all sorts of Halloween-themed posts, sites, and spooky sights to celebrate the season. But you know what? Let’s take a break from Halloween horrors and take a fun-filled trip back to the 90’s!

Umm… yeah.

Aside from the totally radical 90’s attitude (oh, those bright colors! The VHS scratch marks! The guitar music!), this charmingly gruesome commercial features a few treats for writers digging into it:

When doing a period piece, consider embracing cliches and stereotypes

What do you think of when you imagine the past several decades? Rock and roll music, drive-ins, and cheesy sci-fi B movies of the 50’s? The garishly bright colors, disco, outrageous hairdos, and shag carpeting of the 70’s? Or how about totally radical hipsters getting around on skateboards and surfboards while playing Nintendo 64 and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in the 90’s? While there was always more going on in those eras, embracing these stereotypes can work to our advantage when doing stories that don’t rely on historical accuracy: You can play around with these elements and exaggerate them, playing up the nostalgia factor for all its worth, bringing a smile to members of your audience who grew up in that era (and there’s nothing wrong with a little fun-spirited nostalgia every now and then).

If you’re doing a horror piece, consider starting off with ridiculously happy material before bringing the horror

What makes ‘Every 90’s Commercial Ever’ so memorable is that there’s no foreshadowing of its sudden swerve into horror territory. We’re sucked into this charming, goofy commercial of cliched 90’s kids heading out to the park to play football with a big name star (because that’s what every kid in the 90’s did) after drinking some totally awesome Capri-Sun Liquid Slam, only to be suddenly assaulted by a horrid, ‘Thing’ like abomination that proceeds to melt a kid’s face off.

Yikes!

In our own works, a sudden, unexpected swerve is guaranteed to get the audience’s attention because they’re not prepared for it. Such a swerve can work in blending different genres (horror to comedy, sci-fi to western, etc.) but going from comedy to horror may be one of the most effective because the audience will want to see how these happy characters deal with horrors that want to kill them in blood-chilling ways. Another great example of this is the opening to ‘Ghost Ship’ which, while not comedic, was still goofy with it’s family-friendly facade.

Consider having the comic relief/role model character be surprisingly effective at fighting

If there’s one thing more unexpected than seeing three children morph into an eldritch abomination, it’s seeing a professional football player yank a flamethrower out of nowhere and incinerate the beast while screaming for it to die.

In our own works, having role models/comic relief characters suddenly man up and take on monsters can be a great source of comedy (if it turns out they have no fighting skills at all and die almost instantly) and/or awesomeness. In real life, we love seeing a random stranger embracing their inner hero and saving the day when everyone is panicking, and the same runs true for fiction, especially if they’re larger than life characters like professional sports players who have never fought in their life.

Turning the comedic/role model characters into warriors also has the advantage of making them into the underdog: someone who’s phenomenally skilled at one thing, and then being thrust into a role they have no skill or talent in (You’ll also get comedy bonus points if they yank out a powerful weapon out of nowhere).

Consider throwing in product placement that makes everyone unrealistically happy, no matter the situation

How would you feel if you saw your friends be devoured/melted by an existential horror from beyond the stars? Shell-shocked, most likely, with a hearty dose of PTSD. In real life, such a catastrophe would take years of therapy to get over, but in commercial land, all you need to cheer someone up is give them some branded junk food.

Considering how short they are, commercials need to show you why using their product is a good thing, so it’s expected that eating junk snack food will make anyone in commercial land feel great. But why not try using that for comedic effect in in your own works? If you’re doing a comedy, have your characters recover from any experience, no matter how traumatic, by eating any manner of junk food: Someone lost a friend to rampaging dinosaurs? No problem! Your home planet just got blown up and everyone you know and love is dead? A few stuffed pizza pockets will take care of that! Died and ended up Hell for all eternity? Not to worry! A few microwavable tacos will have you dancing and singing your cares away!

Consider bringing the monster back at the last second, even if its been killed

Yes, it’s cliched, but bringing back a monster at the last second for one last jump scare is always effective, provided its appearance is pulled off well. Here, it comes in the form of another unexpected swerve, as the audience is expecting more jokes related to pizza pigskins, making the kid-monster’s appearance all the more unexpected.

Consider (very carefully) killing off a kid in your horror story

Aside from the sudden appearance of the Capri-sun Liquid Slam monster, what’s the one element of this commercial that sticks with you after you’ve seen it? I’d guess it’s that one of the innocent kids playing football ends up dead after having his face melted off. It’s arguably the one element that makes this video so memorable; if he had survived, or everyone had lived, the video wouldn’t have had the same impact.

While horror movies can get pretty bloody, there’s an unwritten rule that kids don’t die; breaking that rule tells your audience that you’re not fooling around, and can make for shocking moments that stick with the audience long after the story is over. Still, be cautious when killing children, especially in a comedy. It’s a very fine line between shocking and sickening.

The Takeaway

When doing a period piece, don’t be afraid to use stereotypes and cliches for comedic effect, and try using a comedic opening before starting your horror story so as to draw your audience in. When the carnage begins, considering killing off a child to show you mean business, while having your comic relief character be revealed to be a surprisingly good fighter, and then have everyone be cure of their depressions and trauma by enjoying blatant product placement before the monster unexpectedly returns.

BONUS

Just for fun, here’s some of the commercials being parodied here. I still remember seeing these, too!

What we can learn from ‘Halloween 60’

With Michael Myers’ return to the big screen only three days away, it seemed fitting to take a look at… well, a ‘Halloween’ film that hasn’t happened yet, and probably never will (though with Hollywood’s history with sequels, it’s not out of the question).

‘Halloween 60’, a parody trailer by Fuzz on the Lens, imagines an 81 year old Michael Myers breaking out of prison – again – in 2038 and heading out to kill Laurie. Although it’s a parody trailer, there’s still quite a few goodies and tidbits for writers to learn from, so let’s take a look at at what that lovable goofball Myers is up to twenty years from now.

Consider showing what happens when homicidal killers grow old

If there’s one thing we rarely see in horror films, it’s homicidal senior citizens. Plotting, scheming, elderly masterminds? Yes. Evil dictators and politicians? Totally believable. Axe/knife/chainsaw wielding murderers? Not so much. Considering how our bodies inevitably decay with old age, the idea of an 80 year old going after teenagers is laughable, since it’s easy to imagine those teenagers just kicking away his walking stick and having him break a hip when hitting the ground.

However, there are always exceptions to every rule: For every crippled old man in a wheelchair, we have a Jack LaLanne, Sylvester Stallone, or any number of older people who don’t let age stop them from being fit, and in an era where more and more people than ever work to keep themselves healthy in old age, the idea of an axe murder collecting social security checks isn’t as far-fetched as it used to be. Choosing an older person as a killer offers some unique traits you can’t get with a 20 or 30 year old: an older killer will be more entrenched in their evil ways (and less likely to be redeemed),  be deeply set in the local community to avoid drawing suspicion to themselves, and even have numerous sidekicks who can help him/her carry out their vile work. Even having them be physically weaker can make battles more interesting, as they’ll have to be more clever than the protagonists to compensate for reduced strength, relying on wits and fooling their prey rather than endless stamina.

Consider showing what happens when homicidal killers grow old… and play it for laughs

With all that said, it’s still hilarious to see an 80 year old heading out to kill youngsters. Despite his formidable determination, poor Michael:

*Uses a cane to hobble around

*Drops his dentures to frighten people

*Takes viagra

*Gets crippling back pain after being bumped by children

*Can’t keep a grip on his knife

*Uses oxygen

*Has a heart attack and uses LifeAlert to call for help.

Even Laurie – determined to end Michael once and for all – has to get around with a walker. In short, the trailer relishes in the fish-out-of-water comedy trope of taking near-mythical characters and having them suddenly deal with everyday problems… in this case, old age. Just imagine Darth Vader having to fight Jedi Knights as a 90 year old in a wheelchair, or Leatherface trying to chase down and carve up teenagers when he doesn’t even have the strength to lift a chainsaw over his head, yet still trying with all their might to make it happen. This can also have the bonus of making them laughably ineffectual villains, leaving us feel sorry for them for them, even as we laugh.

The Takeaway

Consider having your evil mass-murder be a senior citizen instead of a fit, young person; while a bit far-fetched, it can offer the chance to write a more interesting character who has more interesting ways of killing people beyond hacking and slashing, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to poke fun at the inherently silly concept of an old and weak killer trying his best to kill people.

Favorite Moments: Gandalf Destroys the Ring

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Movie

‘Gandalf Destroys The Ring’

The Scene

Having finally found the One Ring, Gandalf destroys it.

Why it’s great

When it comes to dark lords in fiction, we expect them to be nearly-invincible abominations who can only be defeated through great sacrifice, peril, and suffering. But what if they could be defeated with hardly any effort?

The reason I love this fan edit so much is that it turns Sauron, a dark lord so powerful that he’s almost impossible to defeat, into a joke. His source of power, instead of being thrown into a volcano in the heart of his own realm, is destroyed by being thrown into a fireplace. It’s a brilliant subversion of the dark lord trope, and helps us imagine an alternate version of The Lord of the Rings where Sauron is so determined to conquer Middle-Earth, but he’s incompetent and easily foiled, turning him into a comedic figure instead of a force of pants-wetting terror.

In our own comedic stories, consider making your dark lord a force of utter terror that scares the pants off everyone who hears his/her/its name, who has armies beyond count, minions without end, and a will that can never be broken, and then have him be defeated in seconds:

*Someone shoots him with a gun or a bow.

*He’s hit with a rock.

*He trips and breaks his back (due to the ornate, impractical, and scary armor they’re no doubt wearing).

*His object of power is destroyed by hitting it with a rock (or a hammer).

And when all is said and done, the Dark Lord’s forces stand around in awkward silence and wonder what they’re going to do now.