Do genre mash-up films really work?

Vikings versus aliens? Cowboys versus ninjas? Hollywood is in the grip of a hybrid genre fever, but are the results mere low-brow nonsense? Here’s Ti’s view...

The teaser trailer for Transformers: Dark Of The Moon showed that the Apollo 11 landing did not just provide one of mankind’s historical moments, but also the discovery of Transformers on the moon.

This melding of true life events and sci-fi is a simple example of how the hybrid genre movie is rapidly becoming more popular in Hollywood. There is even another Apollo-based film coming out that portrays ‘fictional’ historical events with a horror twist. Apollo 18 will tell the tale of the ‘lost Apollo mission’ that, no doubt, saw its astronauts come to an icky end at the hands of some alien/monster/red neck conspiracy theorist.

Now, I love genre movies. My DVD collection is made up of many a historical epic, war movie and sci-fi extravaganza, but recently filmmakers have decided to combine these genres to create a film that can be both great fun and ridiculous in equal measure.

However, more often than not, they completely divide audiences. In fact, it seems more and more films are being advertised and pitched as ‘Something from one genre vs. something from another genre’ Dog Soldiers (squaddies vs. werewolves!), The Warrior’s Way (cowboys vs.  ninjas!), Cowboys & Aliens (cowboys vs. aliens!) and Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus (erm., Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus!)

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Now, obviously, most genres are a hybrid to some degree. A sci-fi film can’t just be a ‘sci-fi’ film, it has to be a dramatic sci-fi or a comedic sci-fi film or something like that. But I’m talking about the extreme mash-up of genres that would not be generally put together at all.

For example, let’s look at the historical epic first, shall we? In recent years, our cinemas have been flooded with swords and sandals movies such as Gladiator, Troy, Kingdom Of Heaven and such, but as audiences have become bored with these history lessons, filmmakers have attempted to make them more interesting with a horror/sci-fi twist. 

A few years ago saw the release of two Viking films, Pathfinder and Outlander. Now, Vikings don’t generally have a good reputation in cinema, even with decent films like The 13th Warrior and Beowulf dividing audiences and producing a mediocre box office. But Pathfinder and Outlander attempted to do something different with high concept ideas.

The first, Pathfinder, was sold on the premise of Vikings vs. Native Americans, and while it was all well and good, it ended up being a bit dull. However, it was clearly Outlander that had the more intriguing pitch: Vikings vs. aliens!

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You can imagine it being pitched as an idea for a early Predator sequel, a Predator hunting history’s most brutal warriors in the most remote wilderness. But instead the filmmakers made it a sci-fi-themed inspiration for the legend of Beowulf. It was complete hokum, and as you’d expect, critics were lukewarm to the film. However, I thought it was a rollicking good ride, and how often do you really get to see Vikings fight an alien beast that resembled a dragon mixed with a cougar?

Keeping with the idea of blending history with fantasy, studios have also produced Solomon Kane, based on Conan’s Robert E. Howard’s creation, a Puritan mercenary who fights demons, and the forthcoming Season Of The Witch, which sees Nicholas Cage’s Templar Knight battle a witch and zombie monks.

It seems that demons, monsters, and especially zombies, can be placed into any genre and immediately make it thirty-three percent more entertaining. If that wasn’t enough, studios have realised that, if there is one thing worse than a zombie, it is a Nazi zombie! The likes of Dead Snow and Outpost have seen the Third Reich rise from the dead to not just conquer the world, but eat brains, and it looks like there is no stopping them.

Not only do we have the upcoming Fourth Reich (Sean Pertwee, Craig Conway, Jason Flemyng as WWII troops discovering crazy Nazi experiments whilst liberating Europe), but we have Iron Sky, an independently produced film that theorised that the Third Reich has been hiding on the dark side of the moon for the past 60 years, and are now coming back in flying saucers. This is an Internet-only film, but I feel it’s crazy enough to get a mention.

Combining the war and horror genres is not a new thing, and while war may be hell, it can be made worse with demons and ghosts. The likes of Deathwatch and Below handled the material reasonably well with a WWI platoon and a WWII US submarine, respectively, being tormented by dark, mysterious forces.

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David Twohy’s Below, in particular, is a favourite of mine, as it not only combines the horrors and dangers of living and fighting on a submarine, but power cuts, depth charges and possible horrors in the dark make it all the more unnerving. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

That is not to say all hybrid genre films work. While most try and blend two genres at most (war/horror, sci-fi/historical, western/sci-fi), Neil Marshall’s Doomsday tried to combine more. The film tried to be not only an homage to 80s films like Escape From New York, but also tried to blend sci-fi with an historical epic, as well as horror. While the film has its fans (including myself), one can’t deny that it is a bit of a mess.

So, what wonderful and weird hybrid genre films do we have coming in the near future? Well, there is the hybrid of classic literature and horror in Pride And Predujice And Zombies, not to mention author Seth Grahame-Smith’s other adaptations including Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

For me however, the most interesting one is Werewolves Vs Gladiators: Edge Of Empire (Hey, it’s werewolves vs. gladiators!)

On the film’s official website, the synopsis reads: “AD 160. The Romans occupy Britain, and the great Hadrian’s Wall divides the land, built to keep back the northern warrior tribes, and something far more dangerous; a clan of savage wolf-like creatures which roam the lowlands. Word reaches Governor Flavius that the Emperor has decreed that new, more fearsome beasts should be captured for the games. The ambitious Governor, having heard rumours of the fierce wolf-beasts beyond the great wall, senses an opportunity to win favour with the Emperor and even a place in the senate.”

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Crazy, eh?

Of course, the big one is Cowboys & Aliens, the awesome idea to combine the Western with an alien invasion flick. We also have the likes of Battle: Los Angeles aiming to combine the grittiness of war films like Black Hawk Down with the destruction of an alien invasion movie.

However, the question is, are these films anything more than low brow entertainment? Are they watch and throw away movies that, due to their ludicrous nature, are nothing better than Friday’s night diversions?

Can a hybrid genre movie ever be more than simply a tag line? More importantly, what hybrid films would you like to see? Personally, I’ve always wanted to see a medieval zombie film. Knights vs zombies. Bring it on…

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