The Curator of Schlock #177: Resident Evil Retribution

The Curator of Schlock #177 by Jeff Shuster

Resident Evil: Retribution

Zombie simulators and evil computers.

 We’re in week five of Resident Evil month and I am dead-dog tired. Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Perhaps. The fact that director Paul W.S. Anderson could keep this zombie extravaganza rolling through six movies is nothing short of incredible. The fact that I was able to wade through this zombie extravaganza is nothing short of amazing. Do I deserve a pat on the back from you, my faithful readership? Yes. Yes I do. 


Resident Evil: Retribution picks up where Resident Evil: Afterlife left off. Alice (Milla Jovovich) was fending off an attack by the evil Umbrella Corporation on the freighter known as Arcadia. Oh, I forgot to mention in my last review that Alice owns a gun that can shoot quarters at her enemies. That’s pretty nifty. Anyway, the attack is being led by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) from Resident Evil: Apocalypse. She’s possessed by one of the red beetle robots, the same kind that were possessing Claire Redfield in the last movie.


Did you remember the last movie? No need since Alice gives the audience a recap of the first four movies. I wish other movie series would do that, give recaps. I can’t keep anything in those Marvel movies straight. Hell, I couldn’t keep anything in Avengers: Age of Ultron straight. I thought it was going to be a movie about superheroes fighting killer robots. Instead, I got to see Iron Man and Captain America hang out at Hawkeye’s ranch, talking about their feelings while Thor waded around in a wishing well. I don’t get movies sometimes.


Anyway, Alice gets knocked off the Arcadia, falls into the Pacific Ocean, and wakes up in some kind of suburban housewife fantasy. She’s married to Carlos (Oded Fehr) and has a deaf daughter named Becky (Aryana Engineer). Zombies break into their house and kill Carlos. Interesting. Wait a minute! Didn’t Carlos die in Resident Evil: Extinction? She runs into Michelle Rodriguez on the street, too! Didn’t her character die in the first movie? Something fishy is going on here.


Alice then wakes up in a glowing white room. Jill Valentine is interrogating her, asking why Alice betrayed the Umbrella Corporation. We learn later that the Red Queen, the evil computer that looks and sounds like a little English girl, is controlling Jill. Ada Wong (Li BingBing) helps Alice navigate an Umbrella complex in the middle of Russia that contains domed theme-park versions of New York, Tokyo, and Moscow.


See, the Red Queen can create clones of sixty Umbrella employees, give them basic memories and personalities, and then let loose the zombie hoards on them. This structure was created to simulate the effects of a zombie apocalypse so the Umbrella Corporation could sell their bioweapons to the highest bidding superpower. 

Ada Wong works for Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) who is now one of the good guys. Huh? He was so evil in the last movie. Wesker has sent a squad in to rescue Alice. Unfortunately, this squad runs into to some Soviet zombies, driving tanks and brandishing machine guns.


I think there’s a super zombie version of Michelle Rodriguez at the end of the movie. I’m tired.

Your Curator of Schlock is and will be taking the month of April off. He will return in May. Big things are in store for the Museum of Schlock this year. Can’t say anything just yet. You’ll have to wait and see.

Jeffrey Shuster 3

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 252: The Intoxicators!

Episode 252 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to Gary Evans, Brian Crum, and Adam Watson of The Intoxicators about writing music, working collaboratively, fast tempos, and staying fired up!

The Intoxicators B&W


Easter Eggs on HalloweenI Dreamed the Best PartThe Intoxicators JTTCOTE

Episode 252 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #176: Resident Evil Afterlife

The Curator of Schlock #176 by Jeff Shuster

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Still no kung Fu zombies!

 Was it too much for Paul W.S. Anderson to cast Donnie Yen in a Resident Evil movie, have him get zombified, so we could have a kung Fu zombie fight scene with Milla Jovovich? Was that too much to ask? We’re four movies in and I have yet to see that scene! You don’t even need to have Donnie Yen play a character. Just have him play himself and then he gets zombified. And don’t have him do one kung Fu scene for like two minutes and then have him sit around for the rest of the movie like a certain Star Wars movie that I won’t mention.


Okay. Enough with my nitpicking. I’d say the first eighteen minutes of Resident Evil: Afterlife are just about the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a long time. Resident Evil: Extinction ended with Alice warning the evil chairman Albert Wesker that she was coming for him and the rest of the Umbrella Corporation. Resident Evil: Afterlife begins with Alice (Milla Jovovich) infiltrating Umbrella’s massive underground facility in Tokyo, Japan. She’s using ninja stars and a samurai sword, lopping the heads off of Umbrella guards left and right.

Resident Evil Afterlife 8

She even uses her psionic powers to waste even more guards. And then she gets three bullets in her back. No more Alice. Until three more Alices show up sporting machine guns. Milla Jovovich times three?

That’s right. I forgot Alice had freed hundreds of clones of herself at the end of Resident Evil: Extinction. And they’re all here, killing tons Umbrella officers! This is awesome! The evil Chairman Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) makes a quick getaway with his tiltrotor plane, smirking as he triggers a bomb from his cell phone that destroys Umbrella headquarters, killing all of the Alice clones and leaving a rather large crater in the middle of Tokyo. I really hate this guy!


Unbeknownst to him, the real Alice was hiding inside the plane. She sneaks up on Wesker, gun in hand, but he’s too fast for her. Wesker sticks a needle in her neck, releasing an antivirus that kill the T-cells in her bloodstream, removing her powers and turning her into a normal human being again. Wesker makes some speech about the Umbrella Corporation reclaiming their property and how he’s going to kill Alice. Maybe he should have focused his attention on piloting the plane, which is about to crash!

Alice survives and heads over to Alaska where the survivors in Claire Redfield’s convoy were supposed to be holding up. She searches Alaska for months, finding no sign of them or the town they were supposed to go to, Arcadia. Eventually, she finds Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), but she’s not herself. Claire acts like a wild animal, attacking Alice with everything she’s got. Alice knocks her out and removes a strange, robotic red beetle from Claire’s chest. Claire comes to, saner, but has amnesia, obviously. Claire doesn’t remember her own name.


They fly a plane to Los Angeles, where they run into a ragtag group of survivors like former basketball star, Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), and former Hollywood producer, Bennett Sinclair (Kim Coates). They tell Alice they’ve been receiving broadcasts from a huge ship named the Arcadia, which offers safe haven to survivors. Alice figures the rest of Claire’s convoy is on that ship.


They just have get through the zombie hoards to get to it. And let me tell you, the zombies are worse this time around. Their faces open up like Venus flytraps. Plus, there’s this giant super zombie with a burlap sack nailed to his head walking around, wielding a huge axe he made from a streetlight.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Fortunately, Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller), brother of Claire Redfield, joins up with them. He knows how they can get to the ship. But what horrors await them onboard? I’m not going to tell you. I’m really digging this series.


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Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Buzzed Books #51: Being Elvis

Buzzed Books #51 by Scott Hoffman

Ray Connolly’s Being Elvis: A Lonely Life


When I was asked to review Ray Connolly’s new Elvis biography, Being Elvis: A Lonely Life, my first thought was, do we need another Elvis biography? His life is already a part of our national myth. His meteoric rise in the 1950s from poverty in rural Mississippi to rock stardom represents for many the epitome of the American Dream, unheard of success in a land where anyone can become successful. His fall in the succeeding decades, becoming an overweight, drug-addled recluse, reminds others that there’s a price for that dream, a Faustian deal where happiness and integrity are traded away for wealth and fame. Writers have covered Elvis’ life from nearly every possible angle. Bookstores (or if you prefer, Amazon) are packed with personal memoirs written by nearly everyone who knew him—his ex-wife, cousins, girlfriends, various hangers-on, and even his maid—each vying to correct the record. Multiple biographies are available, too, ranging from Albert Goldman’s Elvis, a vulgar exercise in character assassination, to Peter Guralnick’s scholarly two-volume Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. Published some twenty years ago, Guralnick’s book is well-researched, digging deep into the archives at Graceland, and thorough, offering an in-depth portrait of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, his influences, his motivations, his rise, his fall. Many consider it literally the last word in Elvis biographies. It’s still startling, though, to see it in Memphis’ touristy souvenir shops next to the bobbleheads and snow globes. Yet, new books about Elvis appear each year.

Ray Connolly is novelist and a journalist who interviewed many of the cultural icons of the sixties and seventies, including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Elvis himself. He enters into the constant conversation about Elvis with a psychological biography of sorts that explores, as the title implies, what it meant to be Elvis. A portrait emerges of man scarred by poverty in his youth and driven by an irrational fear that one day he could return to it. That fear, coupled with his love of music, fueled the relentless the artistic and monetary success of his early career, but it eventually led him to abandon his love of music to simply make money, and to such unwise decisions as his amphetamine habit to keep up the relentless pace of touring, his choice of the unscrupulous Colonel Tom Parker as his manager, and a string of lackluster films and concerts.

As a biography, Being Elvis adds little to what we know about Elvis, and his theme, being Elvis, often vanishes from sight only to reappear stuffed into the book’s final pages as Connolly wraps up his account. If I were to review Being Elvis solely by what new facts and insights Connolly brings, I couldn’t recommend it. We’ve seen much of this material before…and so has he.

As a story, though, Being Elvis is an exemplary use of novelistic techniques to draw a dramatic narrative from this well-known twentieth century musical phenomenon, Elvis’s rise and fall. So many memoirs and biographies simply string together the events of that life, linked only by passages that, depending on the writer’s perspective, argue that Elvis was a genius or a fool, a victim or a monster. Goldman fell easily into this trap. Guralnick didn’t, and neither does Connolly. This is a gripping Faustian tale for sure, and Connolly’s clear that the Devil is Colonel Parker, a man who knew little about music and came to use his superstar client as a cash cow to finance his own prodigious gambling debts. Connolly convincingly captures Elvis’ struggle between the desire to be a great artist and Parker’s incessant, cruel demands for more money. The reader feels the young Elvis’ wild joy in his music and his success. Later, that joy slips away as money replaces music, bringing an older but no more wiser Elvis only disappointment and desperation. For those who see Elvis as larger than life, Connolly’s deep empathy for a man scarred by poverty comes as a revelation. And it should. The writer who wants to tell history or write biography compellingly can look to Being Elvis and learn.


Scott Hoffman

Scott Hoffman (Episode 66241is an independent scholar and native Austinite living and working in his hometown. He earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue University in 2005 and is currently revising his manuscript Haloed by the Nation: Popular Martyrdom in Contemporary America. In 2008, he was nominated for a Lone Star Emmy for researching and writing The World, the War and Texas, a public television documentary about Texans during the Second World War. His publications include “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? St. Maria Goretti in the Post-Counter-Cultural World” in The CRITIC and “Holy Martin: The Overlooked Canonization of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” and “‘Last Night I Prayed to Matthew:’ Matthew Shepard, Homosexuality and Popular Martyrdom in Contemporary America,” both in Religion and American CultureThis year he completed compiling an LBGT Resource Guide for the Austin History Center. In his spare time Scott likes to sing like nobody’s listenin’ and dance like nobody’s watchin’, which means he tends to wail and flail his arms a lot…

Pensive Prowler #5: Clothes Make the Man

Pensive Prowler #5 by Dmetri Kakmi

Clothes Make the Man

Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons fame recently showed her fall/winter collection in Paris. As expected, breathless accolades and stunned summations followed. Even the Met is finally acknowledging the Japanese fashion doyen’s avant-garde creations by putting on a retrospective of her ground-breaking designs; and I, of course, wish I had filthy lucre to fly to New York, see the show, buy two or three of Kawakubo’s pieces from the 22nd Street Comme boutique and fly back to Australia.

As  you’ve probably guessed, I’m a Comme des Garcons groupie. (Another thing I have in common with John Waters!) Kawakubo just has to sneeze into a Yayoi Kusama designed handkerchief and pin it on a Milled Nylon Suit with Frilled Lining and I will buy it.

Kawakubo’s garments don’t fit easy categories of clothing and fashion. They’re an aesthetic challenge. Her designs are more like augmentations that turn human form into ambulatory work of art. The clothes aren’t mere drapery for the body; the body become a vehicle for the clothes, often disappearing within folds, veils and over-size hats.


By experimenting with cut, texture, colour, volume and silhouette, Kawakubo extends the possibilities of the body; she distorts its proportions, often into grotesque shapes that recall her controversial first showing in Paris. It’s only when you see the garments from the 1981 collection that you understand why that inaugural outing was labelled ‘Hiroshima chic’ by the press. The unsightly lumps and bumps, coming out of unexpected places, are tumours and abscesses in the wake of radiation poisoning. The clothes were an insult, a parody of high fashion. Everyone was outraged. Yet here she is still going strong at seventy-four.

I’m intrigued by Kawakubo’s designs because to me they perfectly embody the writer’s dilemma. I mean that the clothes are the perfect vehicle for a writer’s deepest wishes and worst fears, namely to be simultaneously visible and invisible, wanted and unwanted.

I speak now as one who suffers from body dysmorphia. That means I believe I’m uglier than I probably am; I genuinely see myself as a unsightly cartoon character. Here’s an example. Strangers often tell me that I resemble George Clooney. Kind as that might be, when I check the veracity of the statement in the mirror, I see Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean. It’s that disproportionate. The way I see myself physically is incompatible with the reality of the situation. This warped perception of myself means I avoid being photographed and there are days when I can’t leave the house, all of which leads to anxiety and depression.

That’s why I hide behind hats and glasses. It’s camouflage. But it’s also an attempt at something else.

Clothes reveal who we are and who we would like to be. They are a little bit fantasy and a little bit wish fulfillment. If you feel low, a good outfit can make you feel splendid. Clothes can lift your spirits, they can turn the dark Id into a light-filled Eden.

One of Tove Jansson’s Moomin characters sums up the situation perfectly: ‘Isn’t it wonderful how a beautiful hat can change one’s looks … one feels free, dangerous…’

I believe that. I also believe in not looking in the mirror; it can ruin the day.

This is where Rei Kawakubo comes into the picture. Her clothes are simultaneously ugly and beautiful, innovative and ridiculous. They clash with preconceived sensibilities and present a conundrum. This uncertainty forces the eye and the brain to reassess and to ask questions about notions of beauty and ugliness; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; and to hopefully come up with new ways of seeing.

Kawakubo’s clothes fulfil my best and worst fantasises about myself. Wearing her, I can be handsome and ugly. It’s like being a shape-shifter or a chameleon. Your presentation constantly shifts from one thing to another to suit mood or circumstance. Signals are mixed, confused. People often do a double-take to affirm what they think they saw. Equally, responses can be flattering or outright hostile. Men are especially affronted. ’What do you think you’re wearing, mate?’ is a familiar refrain when I wear Kawakubo’s blue plastic coat with the white stitching and the patchwork pants.

Fashion designer Marc Jacobs said that he likes Kawakubo’s clothes because ‘it’s not about dressing for other people. It’s not about buying clothes to attract or seduce. It feels like a gift you’re giving to yourself.’

It’s a bit more complicated for me. I dress to please myself, to make me feel better about peering out of this face and about living in this body. But it’s also a disingenuous form of public exhibitionism. A kind of theatre, if you like. I dress to draw the eye in order to repel it, and I repel the eye in order to attract it, which is reflective of what goes on in my mind when I look in the mirror and see the Hunchback of Notre Dame staring back at me.

In a way, Kawakubo’s clothes have become my uniform. They are the face I present to the world. I feel naked and exposed without them. The clothes stop people from thinking about my face and my body. They see what I want them to see. They see difference, rather than why it was adopted.

And when I write at my desk, I hide inside a voluminous black hoody by Issey Miyake and deconstructed black overalls by Yohji Yamamoto, Kawakubo’s ex-lover.

Monk-like, I disappear.



Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

Episode #251: Ephraim Scott Sommers!

Episode 251 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk with the poet Ephraim Scott Sommers.

Ephraim Scott Sommers


The Night We Set the Dead Kid On Fire


Litlando 2017 will take place on March 25th at The Gallery at Avalon Island. Buy tickets now here.


Check out Ephraim’s music here.

Come to Ephraim’s book launch, if you are in Orlando.

Ephraim Scott Sommers book launch final

Episode 251 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #175: Resident Evil Extinction

The Curator of Schlock #175 by Jeff Shuster

Resident Evil: Extinction

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. 


It would seem that the zombie apocalypse that I thought was averted at the end of Resident Evil: Apocalypse is in full swing at the beginning of Resident Evil: Extinction. The evil Umbrella Corporation failed to contain the T-virus.

And you know what? I’m glad.

There’s nothing like an American wasteland filled with flesh hungry corpses to pique my interest. This movie seems to cater to all my interests. We’ve got zombies, mutants, killer birds, maniac punks, clones, a psionic woman warrior, and Ali Larter. What more can you ask for in a movie?

Resident Evil: Extinction begins with Alice (Milla Jovovich) waking up naked on the floor of a shower just like she did in the first movie. She evens puts on that same red evening dress. Alice wanders around that same creepy mansion from the first movie. She makes her way through a series of traps before getting gunned down by an automatic turret. It’s like something out of a video game. A few Umbrella scientists led by the evil Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) retrieve her corpse and dump the body outside where there are dozens of other dead Alice clones littered about. The scientists then go to their underground lab since they’re fenced in by hoards of hungry zombies on the surface. Good thing they have a helicopter.

The evil Dr. Isaacs attends a holographic boardroom meeting with the head members of Umbrella, including the evil chairman Albert Wesker (Jason O’Mara). Dr. Isaacs claims he can come up with a new virus from the blood of those Alice clones that will domesticate the zombies. The Umbrella Corporation likes the idea of a docile workforce. They wouldn’t even have to pay the zombies minimum wage. Just toss them a Slim Jim once in awhile and they’ll be fine. He tries the new virus on a particularly violent zombie and the zombie calms right down.


The zombie uses a cell phone and even takes a couple of photos of the scientists, but the virus quickly wears off and the zombie eats the observing scientists. Dr. Isaacs needs the original Alice to perfect this new virus.

"Who bent my bloody swords?"

The original Alice has been roaming the zombie wasteland for years now, avoiding the detection of the Umbrella Corporation’s satellites by keeping off the grid. She tries to help people when she can, but they usually turn out to be Death Wish-style punks that want to do bad things to her. Meanwhile, there’s a caravan of survivors led by the fiercely beautiful Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). Along for the ride are Carlos Oliveira (Oded Fehr) and L.J. Wade (Mike Epps) from Resident Evil: Apocalypse. We’ve also got a nurse named Betty (Ashanti), a cowboy named Chase (Linden Ashby), a girl named K-Mart (Spencer Locke), and a bus full of orphaned children.


Alice reunites with her friends after saving them from a bunch of infected, killer crows with her newfound psionic powers. That’s right! Alice is a Scanner.

What else?

There’s a fight in Vegas with some Umbrella super zombies. Carlos sacrifices himself for the good of the group by driving a gasoline tanker into a hoard of zombies and then lighting up some dynamite. Woah!


Alice dukes it out telekinetically with a mutated psionic zombified Dr. Isaacs. A computer called the White Queen (another creepy English girl) slices and dices Dr. Isaacs with a laser. Alice discovers an army of Alice clones, which she plans to lead against the Umbrella Corporation. Chairman Wesker will pay! Until next week. Same psionic zombie time, same psionic zombie channel.

Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 250: Loose Lips Live Show!

Episode 250 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I share a recording of Loose Lips, the monthly current events literary thing hosted by the inestimable Tod Caviness, with special guests Josh Dull, Racquel Henry, Darlyn Finch Kuhn, and me.
Episode 250


The%20Bigly Beautiful Book of What Women Want” target=”_blank”>Bigly Beautiful Book


I’ll be at the Gallery at Avalon Island for Litlando on March 25th.


Episode 250 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #174: Resident Evil Apocalypse

The Curator of Schlock #174 by Jeff Shuster

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

More zombies, more mutant dogs, and more Milla Jovovich!


Yeah, you heard right. Resident Evil month continues here at the Museum of Schlock, this time with more zombies, more mutant dogs, and more Milla Jovavich. Two out of three ain’t bad. Of course, I am referring to more zombies and more of the lovely Milla Jovavich.

I could live without the mutant dogs.

One of them eats a redheaded man in this movie. That made me uncomfortable. Why can’t the redheaded man save the day? Why does he have to end up as dog food?

Tonight’s movie is 2004’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse from director Paul W. S. Anderson. 

The movie opens up with a team of Umbrella scientists opening up The Hive research facility to figure out what went on down there. Maybe they didn’t get the memo of the hordes of ravenous zombies lurking down below. You’d think the evil Umbrella Corporation would like to keep that little experiment under wraps. They send a bunch of black vans to ship all of their top scientists out of town before the zombie outbreak hits the streets of Raccoon City. One of the scientists is played by Jared Harris. He played Lane Pryce on Mad Men.


I miss Mad Men


You know, trying to explain the plot of this thing is like trying to explain the plot of The Lord of the Rings. There is just too much going on. We’ve got some new characters this time around. Let’s see, we’ve got Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), a former Raccoon City police officer who was dismissed because she discovered the Umbrella Corporation was experimenting with zombie viruses. We have a pimp named “LJ” who’s played by Mike Epps. He serves as the comic relief.


There’s also Carlos Olivera as played by Oded Fehr, an Umbrella soldier who decides to help the survivors of the Raccoon City outbreak after the Umbrella Corporation leaves him to die. Was Oded Fehr in The Lord of the Rings? No, he was in those Mummy movies, the ones with Brendan Fraser. I liked the first one, but the sequels sucked. I seem to recall Brendan Fraser wrestling a Yeti in the third one. 


Ugh. I’m getting off track. Anyway, everyone’s trying to leave Raccoon City, but the Umbrella Corporation has all of the exits sealed off to prevent the spread of the zombie virus. Jill Valentine holds up in a church along with some other survivors, only to realize the place is infested with lickers, the monster with the long tongue from the first movie.

When all hope seems lost, Alice (Milla Jovovich) crashes a motorcycle through a stained glass window and starts taking care of business (and working overtime). No more lickers, but Alice is about to face here most challenging foe yet.


The Umbrella Corporation has cooked up a monster named Nemesis. He’s a hulking zombie with a computer in his head. Nemesis has to do whatever the Umbrella Corporation tells him to do, and that usually involves killing. Oh, and they gave the Nemesis monster a bazooka too. Will Alice be able to stop the Nemesis monster and rescue the survivors? Will Alice use her kung fu powers against the undead? Will she feed an evil Umbrella scientist to a hoard of zombies? Yes, yes, and yes. Go watch this movie! I kind of recommend it.



Jeffrey Shuster 3

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #48: Haider [Hamlet] (2014)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

48. Vishal Bharwaj’s Haider [Hamlet] (2014)

After having recently revisited Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho with the delightful recognition that the film was even better than I had remembered, I decided to test my luck with another loose adaptation of Shakespeare.

In an earlier review, I covered Vishal Bharwaj’s Omkara, an Othello imagined in a wild country district on the fringes of Indian society.


Vishal Bharwaj’s Haider is a Hamlet imagined in Kashmir, in the northernmost part of India, at the edge of the Himalayan Mountains, during the conflicts of 1995.


I must confess that before watching Haider, I had never heard of the Kashmiri Insurgency. There are groups in the Kashmir region that want their own sovereignty as a nation, no longer as a province of India, with some Kashmiri groups wanting to be annexed to Pakistan. One element of this conflict is an Islamic and Hindu split. I cannot say how accurately Haider portrays the 1995 Kashmiri Insurgency, but the story’s context is a complex one.


Understandably, many citizens of the region wanted to point their heads downward and not take sides. With such an environment, the tense family story merges with that of a region and a nation. The expectation that I was watching a Hamlet actually caused me some confusion about the plot at first. The characters and timeline cannot easily be aligned with Hamlet. Ultimately, though, the changes are dynamic and compelling.


Dr. Hilaal Meer, a surgeon, agrees to perform surgery, in secret, on a leader of the separatist movement. His wife, Ghazala, disapproves.


The army arrives in the town, demands that all the men assemble, and upon discovering dissidents in Meer’s home, blow it up. The doctor disappears in the custody of the army.

Haider, a student at Aligarh Muslim University far away, returns to his destroyed home. He is rescued from suspicious police by Arshia Lone, a childhood love interest who happens to be the daughter of the chief of police.


When Haider goes to find his mother at his uncle’s house, he finds her enjoying herself rather too much at his uncle’s house.

He leaves in a rage, and is again harassed by police, but is recused this time by two of his high school friends, two brothers named Salman and Salman, who run a video store which is basically an excuse for them to sing and dance to Bollywood films all day.


Haider will then protest, and search for his father in police departments and prisons, where information is not forthcoming, until a badass named Roohdar, who has an amazing musical theme.


When our hero learns of his father’s fate, he goes mad, and returns to Kashmir with a shaved head, a beard, and a crazed look as he performs as a busker.


The many changes that Bhardwaj makes to Hamlet seem to make the drama sharper. For example, the play-within-a-play that will incriminate the king occurs not months after the royal wedding, but instead as part of the wedding festivities.


There are two great Bollywood musical routines that fit the play perfectly. One is the aforementioned play-within-a-play.


The other is, delightfully, the grave-digging scene.


Haider was controversial for its political boldness, for not being somehow perfectly balanced to every possible political position in this recent part of history, but it does seem to tap into Shakespeare’s own concerns about the Fortinbras plot, and the struggles for power, for security—ironically, people will tear themselves and their countries apart in order to protect themselves, their families, and their countries. Bhardwaj certainly shows the human cost of such conflicts, and no side comes off as perfectly innocent.


Haider is also a stunningly beautiful film. Vishal Bharwaj is, in my opinion, in the same class as Akira Kurosawa.

This is my fifth Hamlet review as the rogue, and it’s only the second one that I cherish.



John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.