Total Film’s 50 Greatest Horror Movies

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

If you’re looking for viewing material this Halloween, you might turn to Total Film’s 50 Greatest Horror Movies — or to my commentary on that list from a few years ago:

I’ll have to hunt down a few of those, which I haven’t seen yet — I spent last Halloween weekend catching up on horror movies — but first I must fulfill my obligation to disagree with those rankings.

I won’t quibble over one and two; they’re obviously horror classics. The first Halloween, by the way, is remarkably low-gore. Let’s skip to three. Last year I anxiously awaited seeing Suspiria for the first time — thank you, DVR and obscure cable channel — and I can say it was a total waste of time. It wouldn’t make my top 50.

Dawn of the Dead definitely deserves to be high on the list — even the fast-zombie remake — but the original Night of the Living Dead deserves to be higher — and way, way higher than 21.

The Shining is definitely super-creepy. Psycho, on the other hand, has one utterly, fantastically horrifying shower scene — and not much else. I’d rank it much lower. I don’t know The Wicker Man.

Rosemary’s Baby is brilliant. I don’t know Don’t Look Now or Cannibal Holocaust, but I have my doubts. The Thing, Carrie, and The Exorcist all belong high on the list. I only caught Carrie for the first time last year — again, huzzah for the DVR! — and it might be one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. It’s so much more than that one famous blood-bath at the end.

The Blair Witch Project worked for me. The Haunting didn’t. At all. I don’t know Witchfinder General.

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead is a classic, of sorts, but it’s better known for its extremely quotable sequels, the tongue-in-cheek Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. I don’t know Peeping Tom.

Alien may be my favorite “horror” movie of all time, but I understand why not everyone would rate it as one of the top horror movies of all time: it has all the trappings of serious science fiction.

Bride of Frankenstein may be a classic, but it’s awful. Of course, the original Frankenstein is really, really awful — but it introduced an iconic character design for the monster, and it had some wonderfully gothic imagery. Still, I can’t believe the abnormal brain bit from Young Frankenstein was in the original.

I haven’t caught Curse of the Cat People yet, and I don’t know Switchblade Romance, but I did rewatch A Nightmare on Elm Street last Halloween, and I wasn’t impressed. I haven’t seen An American Werewolf in London in years, but I remember it as good ‘n’ creepy.

New York Minorities Frisked 9 Times as Often

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, the New York Times reports, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested — which, if you understand probability, sounds like the police are frisking each racial group equally (in)accurately:

Whites were arrested in slightly more than 6 percent of the stops, blacks in slightly fewer than 6 percent. About 1.7 percent of whites who were stopped were found to have a weapon, while 1.1 percent of blacks were found with one.

So, what makes an officer suspicious?

In examining the stated reasons for the stops, as checked off by police officers on department forms, the center found that about 15 percent of the stops last year cited “fits a relevant description.” Officers can check off more than one reason, but in nearly half the stops, the category called “furtive movements” was cited. Nearly 30 percent of stops cited a category called “casing a victim or location”; nearly 19 percent cited a catchall category of “other.”

Here’s the data that the New York Times doesn’t want its readers to know, Heather MacDonald says:

Blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80 percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed nearly 70 percent of all robberies.

Whites, by contrast, committed 5 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops). They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies.

The face of violent crime in New York, in other words, like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed by a black than by a white perpetrator — a fact that would have been useful to include in the Times’s lead, which stated that “Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped.”

You cannot properly analyze police behavior without analyzing crime, she notes.

NYPD Stop and Frisk vs. Crime Rates

The Anti-Reactionary FAQ

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

I think Foseti got at the crux of the problem with Scott Alexander’s Anti-Reactionary FAQ:

In his previous writings on reaction, Mr Alexander has faithfully described the view of most reactionaries. The problem with his latest piece is that he doesn’t. It is not a staple of reactionary thought that everything is getting worse. To the contrary, I’ve never read that argument from any reactionary anywhere.

(As I’ve previously written I think most of us work in fields where advancement is quite obvious. Our frustration is that while we see progress in some areas virtually every day, nothing outside of these limited areas seems to be getting any better. Instead it all seems to be decaying — a process which itself is hardly a historical novelty).

Let’s correct his statement: It is a staple of Reactionary thought that massive improvements in technology have been very effective in masking massive declines in virtually all other aspects of society.

Outsideness goes one step further:

The progressive assumption, which neoreaction contests, is that it is natural and good to spend the advances of civilization on causes unrelated to civilizational advance. A more controversial formulation (supported here) is that the Cathedral spends capitalism on something other than capitalism, and ultimately on the destruction of capitalism. It tolerates a functional economy — to the extent that it does — only on the understanding that it will be used for something else.

Elementary cybernetics predicts that if productivity is recycled into productivity, the outcome is an explosive process of increasing returns. Insofar as history is not manifesting accelerating productivity, therefore, it can be assumed that social circuitry is being fed through non-productive, and anti-productive links. Techno-commercial Modernity is being squandered on (Neo-Puritan) Progressivism. In the West, at least, that is what is getting worse.

The practice of practising

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Pianist Stephen Hough discusses the practice of practising:

My teacher, Gordon Green, used to say, “in practise a perfectionist, in performance a realist”. In other words, prepare assiduously, tirelessly at home, but when onstage accept the situation at hand without wishing the piano were more in tune, the audience were more appreciative (or larger), you hadn’t made a mess of that octave passage and so on.

But being a “realist” sounds rather prosaic when faced with bringing to poetic, passionate life the masterworks of master composers. I might put it differently from Gordon: in practice an engineer, in performance a pilot. Nuts and bolts in a plane are incomparably important, but when you sit at the cockpit of a Steinway concert grand your eyes need to look ahead not underneath.

The purpose of practising is so that we (offstage as engineers) make sure that we (onstage as pilots) are completely free to fly to the destination of our choice. That destination is one involving imagination and creativity and spirituality and danger and ecstasy of course, not merely the A to B of playing the notes, but without the nuts and bolts in place we will never be airborne. The greatest interpretative vision of the final pages of the final sonata of Beethoven will nosedive to oblivion if we can’t play an even trill.


Slow practice can be a complete waste of time if the mind is not working quickly. Simply to trawl through passages like a contented tortoise is a waste of the felt on your piano’s hammers. Good slow practice is more like a hare pausing to survey the scene — sharp in analysis, watching through the blades of grass, calculating the next sprint.


There are two dangers to avoid in practising, firstly not to play as if you’re onstage, filling the hours crashing through pieces without improvement. This is a common occurrence in conservatories — Rachmaninov concertos pounded with adolescent passion and coarse, crude effects. But the second, more subtle danger is not to get stuck in a practising mode. This is related to mindless slow practice. All the focus when in the practice studio should be how we will play when in the concert hall. If something comes apart, don’t stop immediately. Guide the skidding wheels around the crashing corner for another meter or two, despite the sparks and screeches. A common student scenario: music flying along; train wreck; a second of silence; start at point of accident; continue. The point where things broke down is the fragile spot, the dodgy seam. It needs sufficient overlap of material to be strong. Go back before the mistake and practise beyond the mistake — then the mistake itself will be more safely repaired. Otherwise the very stopping and starting becomes a reflex — an ingrained repetition of breakdown.


There is a well-worn saying: practice makes perfect. I don’t believe this, at least in reference to playing the piano: abstract “perfection” is rarely what we seek; but good practising makes it more likely that we will give a good performance. Its attention, its concentration, its tightening of the screws enable the concert experience to take wing in freedom.

Syd Mead’s Walkers

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

“Visual futurist” Syd Mead imagined these walkers for US Steel’s 1969 Portfolio of Possibilities:

The four-legged, gyro-balanced, walking cargo vehicle shown on pages 80-81 is from the US Steel Interface portfolio series [published in 1969 — see image below].

Syd Mead Walkers for US Steel

The environment is arctic and the mission is to deliver goods and critical supplies to an isolated exploratory colony beyond the DEWline. Like several of the preceding designs, the ‘feet’ can be rotated and locked to form powered wheels for rolling over smooth terrain but, seen here in the walking mode, they are covered with ice that is breaking up into radial slivers as the pneumatic pods flex.

Defining this part of the design concept more closely, Mead explains that “the largest land animal now extant is the elephant. As he puts his weight on each foot the metacarpals and tarsals fan out from the ankle and the foot spreads, distributing the pressure. Conversely, as the weight is retracted the foot contracts and never gets stuck in the mud. The same principle was incorporated here; the ‘foot’ structure would be alternately inflated and deflated in the walking mode to duplicate the natural function of the elephant’s foot.

As a matter of fact, when I did this the US Government had already funded a military project for a walking machine [RH-2010 — the GE Walking Truck] and had built an analog computer-co-ordinated prototype that successfully walked over loosely stacked railroad ties. The seated driver not only operated extremely sensitive hand and foot controls that duplicated and amplified his motions, but also had calculated feedback that allowed him to ‘feel’ the feet making ground contact!”

Looks familiar

12-Year-Old-Girl with TrackingPoint Smart Rifle

Monday, October 28th, 2013

This 12-year-old girl doesn’t seem to have much, if any, experience, with a rifle, but she has no trouble hitting a steel target at 1,000 yards with a TrackingPoint smart rifle:

As Weapons Man quips, Snipers, feeling obsolete yet?

Escape from the Deathstar

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Star Wars borrows from a number of films, especially World War II films. The escape from the Deathstar borrows from Howard Hawks’ Air Force, which came out during the war:

While it is immediately obvious, as shown in the side-by-side scenes in the Empire of Dreams documentary, that the movie inspired the gun turret scenes on the Millennium Falcon. What may not be as obvious is that the underlying structure of several sequences are quite similar to scenes from Star Wars. One scene in Air Force has the crew of the Mary Ann, as the B-17 is called, scrambling to get onboard and take off as japanese soldiers appear in force from a tree line, much in the same way that the Falcon blasts its way out of Mos Eisley with stormtroopers hot on its heels. And though the order is different, it’s hard not to draw direct parallels between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the destruction of Alderaan, both of which happen as the respective flights are on their way to it as a destination, catching their crews by utter surprise.

As the B-17 arrives in the Philippines, the crew chief learns that his son died just as the the first attack began, but has no time to grieve as another Japanese attack forces the Mary Ann into the air, where the crew man the gun turrets in almost identical fashion to the scenes following the death of Obi-Wan on the Deathstar, complete with the donning of headsets and a “Here they come!” opening from the cockpit as the zeroes dive into the B-17. The hexagonal designs of the Falcon gun ports and cockpit, including the exact framing and angles they’re shot at are straight out of Air Force.

Unfortunately, while the Falcon survives, the Mary Ann makes a belly landing, and the similarities come to an abrupt end. That said, there are other similarities throughout, including many echoing smaller scenes in The Empire Strikes Back (huddles of pilots and mechanics scurrying around, working on the planes), but most fascinating is the fact that the way Hawks used the same aircraft throughout the film, having it serve almost as a character in its own right, complete with a name, also informed Lucas in the way he used the Millennium Falcon; not merely in terms of it providing the stage for the same kinds of scenes, but in it providing a character of its own throughout the trilogy.

20th Century Headlines

Monday, October 28th, 2013

20th century headlines rewritten to get more clicks:

xkcd Headlines

Luke’s Landspeeder

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Luke’s landspeeder borrowed heavily from Flash Gordon’s:

Flash Gordon Land Speeder

Star Wars Land Speeder Concept Art

Star Wars Land Speeder

Video of the Nairobi Mall Attack

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

As this video of the Nairobi mall attack makes clear, there’s not much an unsuspecting, unarmed crowd can do to stop a team of armed men:

The terrorists don’t seem particularly skilled with their AKs, but you don’t have to be to hit unarmed shoppers with full-auto fire from close range — with tracer rounds, no less.

Further, as Greg Ellifritz points out, there’s not much effective cover against rifle rounds — even the less powerful “intermediate” rounds used in assault rifles.

Flash Gordon

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

When George Lucas’s family got its own TV set in 1954, he was transfixed by the 1930s Flash Gordon serials that found their way onto the air:

“I was appalled at how I could have been so enthralled with something so bad,“ [Lucas] recalls. ”And I said, `Holy smokes, if I got this excited about this stuff, it’s going to be easy for me to get kids excited about the same thing, only better.’”

Flash Gordon was a reaction to Buck Rogers, which had really taken off when it moved from novels to comic strips:

Seeing this popularity, King Features decided to get onboard the science fiction train, and the young Alex Raymond was paired with writer Don Moore to come up with something that could rival Buck Rogers. What Raymond and Moore created did away with the science-centric approach of Buck Rogers in favor of a much more fantasy-like setting. Dragons, shark-men and gleaming castles were as prevalent as spaceships and laser pistols on the planet Mongo where the stories predominantly took place. Where the novelty of science was often at the center of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon was characterized more by Flash’s courage and the fantastic creatures and situations on Mongo.

The movie serials soon followed:

Today the serials seem quaint, not only for the stories and characters, but for the production quality, which is by all modern standards laughable. But for its time it was astonishing, easily living up to its beloved comic strip predecessor. Each episode brought a new danger to bear on Flash and his friends, monsters of every kind and tribes from all over Mongo (most often some sort of animal-based men; hawkmen, lionmen, apemen, sharkmen and so on).

And though it was touted as being the most expensive serial production ever, every opportunity for saving money was jumped upon. Footage from Leni Riefenstahl’s silent 1929 film Die weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü would pad out the snow-climbing sections (and provide some much needed scale to an otherwise studio-bound production), and Flash would do battle on the steps of a medieval tower from The Bride of Frankenstein. In fact, the music that opened many of the serial’s episodes was a theme from The Bride of Frankenstein that had been co-opted (as was much of the other music used).

The impressive idol footage in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe was from the 1930 musical Just Imagine. Other medieval sets were used from Tower of London (1939), and footage was brought over from Perch the Devil (1927). In an unprecedented move the production shot on the sets of James Whale’s 1940 film Green Hell before he himself had put them to use!

So, how quaint are the old serials? Behold!

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Hop into the WABAC (“way back”) machine and enjoy the original Mr. Peabody & Sherman, from the 1960s:

The upcoming movie seems more whiz-bang, judging from the trailer.

Disney Princesses Dressed as Heroines

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Isaiah K. Stephens has produced these images of Disney princesses dressed as heroines for Halloween:

Snow White as Wonder Woman by Isaiah Stephens

Aurora as Daenerys Targaryen by Isaiah Stephens

Belle As Hermione Granger by Isaiah Stephens

Math For Babies

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Humans are born with an innate number sense or approximate number system:

A few years ago, researchers played newborn infants — as young as seven hours! — recordings of spoken syllables repeated a fixed number of times. In one trial, babies would hear “tuuuuu” four times, for example, whereas in another they’d hear “tu” twelve times. At the same time, the babies were shown pictures of geometric shapes, such as four squares or twelve circles. Somewhat amazingly (at this age, after all, they’re basically blind, sucking potato sacks), the babies matched the number of sounds they heard with the number of shapes they saw. On the trials where they had heard four syllables, they would look longer at pictures of four shapes, and on those with 12 syllables, they’d look longer at pictures of 12 shapes.

The better a baby’s number sense at six months old, the stronger the child’s mathematical abilities three years later, a new PNAS study finds:

The study hinges on a method in which researchers track babies’ eye movements as they watch two video screens at the same time. One screen always shows the same number of dots, but the dots change in size and location. The other screen shows the same thing, except that the number of dots changes as well.

Babies like novelty. In an earlier study using this method, the researchers showed that 6-month-old babies tend to look longer at the screen in which the number of dots changes (the left side of the video above) than the other screen, presumably because they notice the difference in the number of dots and like watching it change.

Scum and Villainy

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Everyone’s favorite hive of scum and villainy was mashed together from a number of classic films — Casablanca; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; The Magnificent Seven; and Yojimbo: