CGI: Crappy Goods Indeed

July 31, 2009

Today it’s raining, it was raining yesterday too.  Somehow the glow, afterglow, day glow and Go-Go (ooh totally different topic) has worn off as the world outside looks as bloated as I feel (yes men get bloated!)

That being said…I went to see the blockbuster “disaster” The Orphan earlier.  While I continue my pledge to keep this a “smack” free zone, opinions can be voiced without malice. So when I say I THINK IT BIT! I am simply one man in the Blog O Sphere who may or may not share the sentiments of many.

I guess I am more disappointed than angry.  Why you ask?  What a perfectly poised question…Because I love a great horror flick.  Slash, bash, shaky camera, oblique lighting… But in the end, a solid script and great special effects.

Soooo when it came to all things Horror and in this case Horrible (eek, did I really keep that in?) I went to my newest BFF Mark McLaughlin better known now as my HEBFF or (Horror Expert Best Friend Forever)

So Mark take it away as I turn my lemonade stand over to you…

…There was a time when doctors would purge the stomachs of patients who’d ingested poison by making them swallow a noxious substance called syrup of ipecac. Instantly, those patients would spew forth the offensive matter and thus relieved, would feel much better.

These days, doctors don’t need to break out the syrup of ipecac to make patients throw up. All they need to do is show the patient a couple direct-to-video movies with lots of low-budget, poorly crafted CGI effects, and that’ll do the job just fine.

CGI stands for Computer-Generated Imagery. A little history lesson: According to Wikipedia, 2D CGI was first used in movies in 1973’s WESTWORLD, and 3D CGI was first used in its 1976 sequel, FUTUREWORLD. The third movie to use this technology was STAR WARS in 1977, and back then, CGI was really hot stuff and everybody ooohed and aaahed over it — probably because a lot of time, effort and money went into making the imagery just right.

But, that was then. Now, everybody with a video camera is cramming CGI effects into movies galore, and while sometimes superior results are achieved, more often than not, the results look like something a patient might have heaved up after swigging one of those ipecac martinis. These days, CGI pretty much stands for Cinematic Groan of Irritation.

Let’s take a look at some CGI-saturated releases (mostly direct-to-video, what a surprise) from recent years.

In YETI, plane crash survivors must fight man-eating yetis hidden away from the world high up in some snowy mountains. Basically, the yetis look like guys in gorilla-style costumes covered with matted white fur. They’re not even as realistic as Godzilla in his Toho Studios movies from the Sixties.

The faces, hands and feet of the yetis look like they’re made out of light-gray latex. I guess there was a stage in evolution when primates mated with rubber-tree plants, resulting in these monstrosities.

The yeti suits are pretty bad, but they’re not the worst thing about this movie. What could be worse, you ask? When it’s time for the yetis to run after anybody, suddenly those lumbering snow-hulks turn into ridiculously nimble CGI creations, jumping with the agility of grasshoppers. Hilarious! And yet, pitiful!

YETI stars Peter DeLuise and a bunch of unknowns, and Peter does a fairly good job of screaming when one of the yetis disembowels him.

These days, every other direct-to-video horror movie seems to have a bit part for Robert Englund, a.k.a. Freddy Kruger from the ’80s and beyond, and BLACK SWARM ups the ante by giving him a pivotal role as a mad scientist.

BLACK SWARM is about a genetically engineered species of killer wasp, and admittedly, wasps are pretty scary — in real life. But in this movie, the close-ups of the over-sized CGI wasps creeping out of their papier-mâché hives actually look silly and a little … cute! Aaaawww, wook at the widdle sweetie-pies! Aren’t they just pwecious?

If we’re to believe Native American history as it is presented in the movie BONE EATER, it would seem there’s a tribe that actually worships bad special effects. The Bone Eater is a demon who takes the shape of a fifteen-foot-tall skeleton with glowing green eyes, and it is so fakey, it makes WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? look like a National Geographic special on the common North American hare.

Most of the stars of BONE EATER are folks who haven’t appeared in movies for so long, they must have jumped at the chance to co-star with a walking Halloween cartoon. Bruce Boxleitner stars as the sheriff, with Gil Gerard as his deputy. Veronica Hamel, William Katt and Walter Koenig also earned some paychecks. They all deserved a better movie (and a better monster) but hey, they’ve got to pay the rent somehow.

I think a new rule needs to go into effect in Hollywood. If CGI effects don’t improve a movie, ditch them and just hire a performer in a rubber suit, a la the old Godzilla, to play the monster. YETI had the right idea, but they should’ve left out the CGI parts. If a performer is hired to play the monster, at least one more actor is getting a paycheck.

One movie series that has turned out great movies with an actor in a pretty convincing rubber suit is the JEEPERS CREEPERS franchise. I once had the pleasure of meeting the actor, Jonathan Breck, who plays the gruesome Creeper. He explained to me that he got the part because he has very large, expressive eyes — a required feature for the creature.

JEEPERS CREEPERS and its sequel were both wonderfully macabre, and certainly having an experienced actor playing the monster really amped up the quality of the movie. I can hardly wait to see the forthcoming JEEPERS CREEPERS 3. On the other hand, I’m not holding my breath for BONE EATER 2.

A closing note about Godzilla: When the CGI version of GODZILLA with Matthew Broderick came out in 1998, did you notice that all the critics hated it? Big G looked like just another JURASSIC PARK wannabe. When it comes to Godzilla, CGI stands for Can’t Get Interested.


Mark McLaughlin is the co-author (with Michael McCarty) of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, MONSTER BEHIND THE WHEEL. He also writes the movie review column, TIME MACHINE OF TERROR! at Most of Mark’s many story and poetry collections are available at


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