S.M. Douglas

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Category: Action / Adventure (page 1 of 3)

Character Influences, Apex Predator, Werewolves, and Tanya

As my readers know, the co-protagonist in my werewolf novel Apex Predator is an irredeemably wicked hot woman by the name of Tanya. What follows are some of the influences that went into creating what is one of my favorite characters.

At the top of the list would have to be the character Marsha Quist/Marcia Lura – from the book and movie “The Howling” (played in the movie by Elisabeth Brooks as pictured here). Though I generally prefer the movie over the book (minus the outstanding prologue to the book), if I had to pick between the two I lean toward the book’s original rendition of Marsha.

Elizabeth Brooks_Howling

This is by no means meant to be a slight against Elisabeth Brooks. She did a wonderful job as Marsha, both visually and emotionally capturing much of what a reader would have conjured up in their brain as they read author Gary Brandner’s work. However, in terms of being an influence on my own Tanya the book’s Marsha was more sophisticated (though nowhere near as formidable as Tanya). The movie Marsha tended more toward the feral and barely under control. Though my Tanya is not one you would want to provoke, she is more multi-dimensional with greater depth to her character.

Nevertheless, multiple influences were behind the concepts that became my Tanya. For instance, the character Sarah Conner (played by Linda Hamilton) from the now iconic Terminator and Terminator II movies is another of those big influences.

Sarah Connor_Terminator

I loved the way the original Terminator showed Sarah Connor’s evolution from vulnerable victim, to resourceful survivor, to victor. Then sometime between the first and second film, and as happens to most heroic champions, she had her downfall. Ironically this happened in spite of her doing what she believed she must – in becoming a survivalist and warrior – to protect her son and humanity. Yet this self-sacrifice had a huge downside for her and her child. In the second film he had become a teenage malcontent hardly worthy of being humanity’s future savior. Meanwhile Sarah Connor had become radicalized to such an extent that she spent much of the same film acting as a sociopathic terrorist who came across as a paranoid schizophrenic at best – before vindicating herself and rising once more to heroic status.

Similarly, Tanya’s tragic background – forged in the cauldron of war – helps my readers understand how a once innocent peasant girl became a destructive killing machine ranking as perhaps the most cunning and violent of Apex Predator’s major characters. Throughout the book Tanya wrestles against her violent nature. She does the right thing in some instances and in others gives in to the monster within – producing horrific results for the unfortunate targets of her predatory instincts. This leaves the reader wondering whether she will be able to truly become a hero, or revert to the bestial nature that has allowed her to do more than just survive in a harsh and unforgiving world – but to thrive as well. Though my Tanya is different than Sarah Connor, I owe a debt of gratitude to those writers, directors, and actors that gave The Terminator such a complex, interesting, and inspirational woman as its central star.

Now, let’s talk about the ladies of Alien/Aliens; beginning with Ellen Ripley. The character played to brilliant effect by Sigourney Weaver – beginning in 1979 with the now classic “Alien” and continuing for nearly two decades thereafter. Though I could go on and on about Ripley and how much of a strong role model she is for women the world over – I would much rather hone in on something else about the character and the work she appeared in: the 1986 sequel to Alien.

Ripley

James Cameron’s “Aliens” is unquestionably a different movie than Ridley Scott’s “Alien”. Most people remember the sequel for its military style action sequences involving Ripley and Colonial Marines facing off against hordes of xenomorphs. However, in addition to Ripley’s stirring role in besting the xenomorphs, there was something else that made Aliens such a great squel. That being another of the film’s great characters and of them all, who can forget Vasquez. The presence of Vasquez (played by Jennette Goldstein) alongside Ripley makes Aliens not just a great sequel, but perhaps the ground breaking female dominated action/military/science fiction/horror movie of all time.

Vasquez_1

I dare anyone to find such a popular box office smash as Aliens that features a better pair of ass-kicking ladies. They influenced my Tanya in so many ways. Yet, Tanya is a unique personality. However, she in many ways combines the best and worst of each of them; the toughness, intelligence, resourcefulness, sheer will to survive, and strength alongside the stubbornness, disdain for authority, self-destructive, and at times violent impulses that get her into trouble. All of which leaves my readers wondering which tendencies will Tanya give in to next – the good or the bad?

Speaking of bad I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another horror movie icon who influenced my Tanya. The one and only Sybil Danning.

Sybill Danning Set of Hercules

That’s right, Stirba the werewolf queen from Howling II; Eva and Gretchen Krupp (The She-Devils of Belzac) from Grindhouse’s Werewolf Women of the SS; vampiress Frau von Hess; and co-star to Lou Ferrigno in Hercules (she’s seen here back in 1983 with her sword) – as well as so many accolades I can’t even begin to list them all.


Like Dee Wallace (who follows me on twitter) she is a true scream queen and star. Plus, she is hot! I would kill to have a body like hers, and I’m a quarter century younger. She was always hot and is still hot (see the recent picture of her at age 60). This leads me to wonder – maybe she’s not just acting in all those movies. Maybe she really is a werewolf, or perhaps a vampire?
2012-Headshot-Sybil_Danning

Either way, she’s an inspiration. I likely couldn’t have crafted my voluptuous, strong, athletic, and bad-ass Tanya (albeit Tanya is a brunette) without such strong female influences as Sybil. If you haven’t seen any of her films, then by all means pull up the Netflix, grab some popcorn, and get watching! Or, pick up a copy of Apex Predator and see if you can spot the influence of these fantastic characters and actresses on my Tanya.

 

 

Horror, Science-Fiction, and Action: Doing it Right in the ’80s

I have previously discussed just how good the early ’80s were in terms of horror films. In addition, I have discussed why the best horror film of all-time was a pioneer in terms of effectively blending the horror/adventure genres. Let’s build upon those discussions and look at several 1980s films that successfully brought together three of my favorite genres: horror, science-fiction, and action.

The year 1984 produced a bevy of entertaining films that rank it as one of the great years in movie-making history.  No list of 1984’s best would be complete without The Terminator.

terminator-poster

We all know the plot and particulars of The Terminator. What really made the movie resonate was the way in which a classic science fiction trope of time travel was layered onto an early ’80s slasher style unstoppable villain. From there, the film’s centerpiece was arguably not the final confrontation between the Terminator and Sarah Connor, a good action sequence in and of itself. Instead, the Terminator’s mid-film assault on the police station harboring Sarah Connor has since become one of the iconic 80’s action sequences. This in a film filled with above average action scenes that include the gunfight at the disco Tech Noir and a car chase featuring a dueling shotgun battle. James Cameron wrote and directed Terminator and perhaps it is no surprise that he also crafted Aliens.

aliens-poster

Released in 1986, Aliens accomplishes the tricky feat of being a sequel that is ranked by many the near equal of its predecessor.  1979’s Alien was a horror movie grounded in science fiction. However, Aliens can best be described as an action movie with strong horror and science fiction elements. Though the action and violence are stunningly done it is in the in-between or “down time” scenes where Aliens really shows it’s teeth, leaving the viewer with an almost constant feeling of dread. Put simply, there is an unrelenting intensity to Aliens that few movies can achieve.

If heavy action is a central element of Aliens it’s taken one step further in our third and final movie in this list: 1987’s Predator.

predator-poster

Is the testosterone too high at times?  Sure. Can the dialogue be somewhat stilted or even schlocky? Of course. Nevertheless, what is perhaps the quintessential Schwarzenegger film is still fun and entertaining nearly thirty years later. So much so it is almost impossible to pull your eyes away given the film’s rapid pace, solid special effects, and the way the viewer is immersed in the jungle where the action takes place.  This last point is important. Director John McTiernan does a wonderful job of using the jungle as a secondary monster to the titular Predator stalking his prey.

I have staked my upcoming novel Apex Predator (to be published early next month) on the concept that blending genres is a great way to produce an entertaining experience for readers or viewers alike. Few decades can match the 1980s in terms of producing multiple films that stand the test of time and combine horror, science-fiction, and action so well. This list could have easily been expanded if for no other reason than 1982’s The Thing. Nevertheless, I’ll leave that one for another day. In the meantime, can anyone guess the only two actors to have played characters killed by the Terminator, Alien, and Predator?

The Scariest Shark Attack You’ve Never Seen

In addition to being obsessed by all things werewolf astute readers will note that I also have a strong interest in sharks. Movies, TV shows, you name it, mention the word shark and I’m hooked. All of which as a horror fan (and nature-horror fan in particular) makes sense; since arguably the greatest horror movie ever made was about a killer shark.

This month I want to clue my like minded readers into a movie they might not have seen, but one that contains perhaps one of the more frightening shark attacks you will ever see. Starring Burt Reynolds, Sam Fuller’s 1969 film “Shark” is far from a classic (including when compared to Fuller’s other works). And this is for a number of reasons. Continue reading

Star Wars In The News

Needless to say with the upcoming December 18th release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens all things Star Wars are everywhere. Now some may bemoan this marketing blitz, but this is nothing new.

Back in the Star Wars “golden age” of the late 1970’s to early 1980’s we also had marketing appearances by the actors, toy promotions, and all kinds of other fun stuff. And yet those efforts to further capitalize on the immense popularity of George Lucas’ creation seemed so much more innocent. Continue reading

Twenty Things I Bet You Never Knew About The Making of Jaws

If you are a fan of the movie Jaws then you know that tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the film’s release (June 20, 1975). Last month I discussed some of the reasons Jaws may have been the greatest horror film ever as part of a follow up to a previous discussion of nature-horror films. What many people don’t know is that quite a bit of “movie magic” went into the making of Jaws.

Making of Jaws

Let’s take a look at some fun facts about the making of Jaws even hard core fans of the film might not know:

1. Peter Benchley (author of the novel Jaws) spent his summers on Nantucket (where his parents lived). Yet prior to the movie’s filming he had never set foot on Martha’s Vineyard (the location chosen for filming) even though it was literally the island next door.

2. Though Jaws Production Designer Joe Alves immediately fell in love with Martha’s Vineyard it was the island’s underwater charms that sealed the deal. The seabed off Martha’s Vineyard’s eastern shore has a flat sandy bottom crucial for deploying the platform that would move the mechanical shark they had designed.

3. Steven Spielberg was not the first choice to direct Jaws. However when the original director chosen first met with Peter Benchley and the producers he completely alienated Benchley by constantly referring to Jaws as a whale. Producer Richard Zanuck promptly turned to Spielberg, whom he had worked with on the film The Sugarland Express.

4. The mechanical shark was named “Bruce” after Steven Spielberg’s attorney Bruce Ramer.

5. Led by Casting Director Shari Rhodes, the Jaws team ended up using Martha’s Vineyard locals for the overwhelming majority of the roles in the film. In fact, other than Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton, pretty much everybody else cast in the film was a local – including all of the kids, most of the fishermen, and even Jeffrey Kramer who played Deputy Hendricks.

6. Quint’s boat, the Orca, is actually a 30 foot retired lobster boat named Warlock. The pulpit, mast, and big plate glass windows seen in the movie were all add-ons. This was much to the detriment of the vessel’s seaworthiness. The big plate glass windows were a particular no-no. A wave could easily punch right through the windows and swamp the boat. Surprisingly the Orca actually survived the filming process (a replica was produced for the sinking scenes).

7. Much of the script was reworked during principal filming (which began on May 2, 1974). Carl Gottlieb was the principal writer, but Scheider and Shaw made now legendary contributions to the script. A dozen more had a hand in creating some of the film’s best lines. For instance local resident Henry Carreiro played “Felix” in the film. During the fishing armada scene when Richard Dreyfuss (playing Hooper) asks where he can find a good restaurant Carreiro ad-libbed the line about walking straight ahead (and off the dock). Everyone laughed, and Spielberg decided to go with it. Though Spielberg takes flack for his work on Jaws, he should actually get considerable credit for creating such an open collaborative process and knowing when a good line worked no matter who it came from.

8. Local Vineyard waitress Andrea Muir “played” Chrissie’s hand during the scene when her remains are discovered on the beach. Muir spent hours laying on the beach with her hand made-up to look like it had been floating all night at sea.

9. Robert Shaw modeled Quint’s salty language and personality off two of the most colorful islanders: Craig Kingsbury and Lynn Murphy. Both played key roles in helping with production of the film. Murphy in particular was an expert sailor who time and again bailed out the production team; particularly involving the filming of the movie’s third act.

10. Roy Scheider was slapped in the face seventeen times filming the scene where he is confronted by Alex Kintner’s mother. Luckily he was a former Golden Gloves boxer and could take it.

11. The scene at the dinner table where Roy Scheider and Jay Mello (the six year old local boy playing his son) are copy catting each other initially occurred during a break in filming. Scheider brought it to Spielberg’s attention, and Spielberg liked it so much he put it in the movie.

12. The filming technique “day for night” is used to do most of the night scenes, whereby they actually film during the day but with a special filter on the camera. It was popular in the sixties and seventies, but didn’t work all that well. In Jaws it was more convincing by using techniques such as filming on overcast days and doing additional work in the lab to create the feel of night.

13. Great efforts were put into making the mechanical sharks look realistic. This included spray-painting them with a rubberized paint to make the skin like rough shark skin. The teeth were actually made out of a substance that was similar to rubber. There were two sets, one hard for biting boats and one softer for biting people. The sharks ended up quite impressive looking for the day, but obviously were lacking in many ways. I would love to see what someone could do today instead of relying on all the cartoonish CGI bullshit. Sorry for the editorializing, but sometimes creating real physical special effects works wonders for making a movie an experience. If you don’t believe me then you should go see the new Mad Max (pure movie making with almost no CGI) and then watch the new Jurassic Park (a cartoon fest).

14. Robert Shaw really was hammered off his ass for the Indianapolis scene (all three actors were drinking). And he still rocked it. The man was a genius (plus he could hold his liquor).

15. The dirty ditty sung by Quint about the lady who died at 103 and “for fifteen years she kept her virginity….not a bad record for this vicinity” came from a gravestone Robert Shaw saw in England and added into the script.

16. The guitar player on the beach at the beginning of the film is playing a stylized version of Otis Redding’s “The Dock of the Bay”.

17. The scenes shot on the sinking Orca were mostly done within one hundred yards of the beach.

18. Robert Shaw and his stunt double had to wear a special padded vest to protect themselves from the shark teeth during the filming of Quint’s demise. Though the teeth were rubber they and the jaws snapped hard enough to deliver quite a chomp.

19. Not all water scenes were shot at Martha’s Vineyard. The shark cage sequence was a composite of real sharks shot in Australia and a swimming pool in California. Ben Gardner’s boat discovery scene was also shot in the same pool, as were the scenes of the swimmer’s from below.

20. To get the sea gulls to swarm around after the shark is blown up and Brody and Hooper are kicking to shore potato chips were scattered all over the water (which apparently sea gulls love).

 

 

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