Friday, October 31, 2008

31 Days Of Horror. A Story Of Failure

5:36:I suck what can I say. I didn't even get half way there.

But as Ed Wood said, next time it'll be much better.

To make up somewhat I'm doing a liveblog of my Horror movie marathon tonight. Enjoy, or don't, I'm freaking to tired to care right now. I've been lugging groceries in full Joker Make up all day/

5:40 few bong rips later and things are looking up, now to make Tamales and start up Dance Of The Dead, my first film of the night.

6:01:

After some Tamale related delays the first film begins. Ghost House has been a huge disappointment to me. The idea of Sam Raimi owning his own horror company should fill me with fuzzy bunny feelings. But the fact is that almost everything (30 Days Of Night semi excepted) out of the company has sucked with vigor.

Still the whole pick up eleven indie films and actually show them to people boxset they released last week was pretty cool. Sam, Rob, annd Ted Giving them the same help that they themselves needed when they made Evil Dead. And I've heard good things about Dance Of The Dead, so I guess it all boils down to me hoping that I'll unequivocally like something from Ghost House for once.



6:05: Huh new Punisher Trailer looks decent, if not for the fact that Lexi Alexander was booted off the film would I have what you humans called hope? I'll admit the fact that my two favorite HBO characters ever are in the film in the two leads doesn't hurt.

6:24: So far so not terrible. I can see why Raimi chose this one, it bares a certain resemblance to his work. These guys tightrope the walk between homage and ripoff, with it's living dead hands and rapid quick cut intros to the characters.

But so far it's light tone, fucked up gore gags, and genuine affection for it's oddball characters is winning me over.

6:36: Excellent Gag 20 minutes in starting to dig this. It's nice to see Nerds who lok like real nerds, these dudes make Jonah Hill look like a freaking pinup model.

6:43: Movies the makers of Dance Of The Dead have seen other than Evil Dead and Cemetery Man: Return Of The Living Dead.

Date Rapists decapitated:1
Evil Science Teachers ended: 1
Various: A shitload
Zombies: A whole nother shitload.

6:50: Film swings wildly between Amateurish and stylish. Kinda endearing at times, at others ,such as the swing the camera wildly from person to person as they talk to each other in a poorly lit night scene? Not so much.

6:55: "Did one of you joker's lace my joint with formaldehyde again?" I've been there buddy.

Seriously tho Guitar battling for your life against Zombie Hordes is genuinely classic scene could have used a bit more time though.

7:00: I love Kyle. The crazy as a shithouse rat, redneck, punk rock enforcer, is making this thing.

Oh also Return Of the Living Dead. AGAIN and AGAIN! As I type it.

7:04: OK so of course as soon as I type that he expires. Thanks.

7:04: The main kid does suck a little bit.

7:08: At the right angle the main nerd looks like Donald Sutherland's Mini Me.

7:09: "They got to one, and then the other, and well, ended up having to kill the whole block." Psycho Coach is pretty great and I love that he happens to have everything needed to stop a zombie uprising in his garage.

7:12"Lord we don't know why you've brought the dead back to life. But well you have."

ALSO RETURN TO THE ULTIMATE GUITAR BATTLE!

7:30: Points for the cannibal love scene.

7:35 You know I like this film, but it seems like the worst thing that could happen to it would be to get a major Dead Alive style cult following. Scrutiny is pretty unkind to this movie. But left on it's own it's a sweet, light, funny movie with a few great moments, a few funny bits, a handful of genuine scares, and some great gore effects what more do you want from a horror flick?

Next, I visit the Casablanca of my generation, The Nightmare Before Christmas

7:40; I'm only kinda kidding when I refer to Sally and Jack as THE ideal couple of thei- Dear sweet God I love this opening.

7:50: I marvel at what a model of narrative efficiency this movie is.

7:54 "What's This?"

8:26: Not much to say about this flick that hasn't been said. I love that Jack's idea of spreading joy IS spreading demonic crazy shit to every house personally. This film is probably my Gold standard for character animation as far as animation defining character goes.

God The Making Christmas sequence is cool.

8:35: Boogie's Maggots writhing into Santa's beard gets me every time.

9:49: Fuck it I'm watching The Strangers again. Love this movie.

10:02 Dear sweet God this movie scares the shit out of me.

10:20 Jesus the shot where Liv catches the first look at her visitor at the window is one of the best jump scares I've ever scene. Here it's the fourth time I've seen this thing I know exactly when and what the reveal is, but it's still caused me to physically jump every time I see it.

11:113 Onto some HG Lewis, then I thin I'm about run out. Not the biggest marathon I've ever done, but I've got to conserve myself for the marathon I'm going to tomorrow at my beloved Aero for the annual horrorfest, read this one and weep.

Night Of The Creeps
TCM2
Demons
Dead Alive
Let's Scare Jessica To Death

and

DEATHDREAM!!!

Fuck that is one hell of a line up, best one yet.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

31 Days Of Horror. Day #14: Bram Stoker's Dracula



There is probably no movie that I wanted to see so much, waited so long for, and was more disappointed by then Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Let me explain, as long as I can remember I’ve been a certified horror nut. And to say the the trailers/commercials/posters/town criers, brought in to convince people that Bram Stoker’s Dracula would be the greatest movie ever fucking made, certainly achieved their desired affect. Unfortunately as I was seven or eight and had two somewhat protective parents there wasn’t anyway in hell I was going to see that movie. So instead I let my imagination fueled by American Zoetrope’s marketing department build the best possible Dracula movie ever. Suffice to say when I saw the movie about five years later, the expectations where not met.




Still I don’t think that it can all be blamed on the build up, as I believe that my eight year old self also wouldn’t have known what to make of Dracula turning into some kind of ape creature and fucking the shit out of Sadie Frost. Coppola’s Dracula is a movie that seems determined to destroy itself. For every masterful scene, every stunning bit of design (and dear God there are plenty) Coppola balances it with one that has an equal but opposite reaction. It speeds between great and terrible with a nimbleness that’s mindblowing.

Lets start with the good. To call the film opulent is like calling Versailles a little gaudy. It just doesn’t quite convey the idea. The film is eye candy of the highest order. It’s long been my personal theory that to achieve the look Coppola locked his production and costume designers in Scrooge Mc Duck’s money been and told them to get spending before they drowned. Every shot, every set, every costume, is simply masterful, and it helps that Coppola’s cinematographer, the great Michael Ballhaus, shoots the living shit out of the movie. The movie is a very Catholic one, and it taps into “The Catholic Imagination” with great zeal, giving evil a truly epic quality that most horror films lack. When Dracula comes across a pack of vampire hunters, shifts into the form of demonic bat, forces a cross to burst into flames merely by lunging at it, moans “Look what you’re God has done to me!” and then desolves into a pack of ravenous rats, your watching the product of two thousand years of considering the worst case scenario.

The special effects are amazing as well, mostly done in camera it gives even the simplest of tricks, like the extending of the coachman’s arm, or the backwards contortion walk by one of Dracula’s brides have a great “How did they do that?” charge that’s all but lost in cinema today. CGI would have ruined this movie.

The problem with all this fantastic design is that there are people in them. Had Dracula been silent or acted out with hand puppets, it would probably be considered a flat out masterpiece. Instead it is a very flawed movie that simply looks very very good.

Coppola assembles one of the most random casts ever seen to make this movie, and almost all of them are terrible, and seem to think they’re acting in different movies. Only Oldman’s hype living up to Dracula, who invests his character with the perfect mix of pathos, operatic insanity, and straight up bloodlust and Tom Wait’s fantastic Renfield, played with just the right mix of tragedy, pitch black humor, and superb skin crawling creepiness, seem to know the movie they are in.
Winnona Ryder is merely bland rather then a woman one would cross “Oceans of time” for, it hardly seems realistic that Dracula would ask her for a second date, Sadie Frost is vacant in a very special way. And one scene where she and Winnona play with a bit of Three Company style misunderstanding, involving a Texan’s knife and penis, pinpoints the exact place where “Comic Relief” becomes an actual punishment. Anthoney Hopkins is absolutely wretched, playing Van Helsing at a level I can only describe as ultra camp.

Ah but there’s someone I haven’t mentioned yet is there?

Now look I’m not a Keanu hater. I think he’s an underrated and undervalued actor. No seriously. Films like My Own Private Idaho and The River’s Edge prove it, I’ll always have a debt to him for nailing Bob Arctor in Scanner Darkly and I’m an unabashed Matrix apologist.

That says Keanu really does fuck this movie up quite badly.

It’s not all his fault, I mean the casting makes the choice of Sofia Coppala for Mary Corleone look like a masterstroke. Who better to play a young repressed law clerk from the Victorian era out to make his fortune then you know… Fucking Keanu Reeves.

The opening scenes between Keanu and The Count are pretty fucking hilarious. Similar to the Nicholson Duval face off in The Shining, Keanu seems so utterly outmatched that it’s comical. It would only take a short nudge of editing to turn their scene into a short about a salesman so determined to make a sale that he desperately attempts to ignore all the crazy shit his mark is doing.

Now I suppose that a meeting between a centuries old undead immortal, and a callow clerk should have the latter feeling outmatched. But this plays less like a young Harker being swallowed by the experienced decadent count, and more like Oldman’s style of acting seriously is seriously harshing Keanu’s mellow.

This is particularly evident in the scene where the grisly tableau of Dracula feeding an infant to his hellish brides, to a reaction shot which conveys that Keanu’s buzz has been seriously harshed by the fact that like dude they just totally ate that baby. Not cool.

Keanu actually becomes more useless as the movie goes on. By the end as he prances around wearing a white fright wig that makes him look like Andy Warhol, his performance has become complete camp. It doesn’t help that Keanu has a British Accent that makes Dick Van Dyke sound like Laurence Fucking Oliver.

Once the film gets to London it continues its mesmerizing dance between great and awful. Dracula sliding between the screens at an early cinema, paying to tribute to a knew form of immortality? Brilliant. Dracula turning into an ape creature to fuck Sadie Frost? Not Brilliant. The vampire hunter’s harrowing confrontation with Dracula in his decaying abbey? Brilliant. Dracula turning into mist so he can give Winnona Ryder some head? Not Brilliant. Dracula scuttling inhumanly down a sheer wall? Brilliant. The suggestion that Dracula is a compulsive masturbator… Well you get the picture.

Aside from a piece of eye candy Dracula is most interesting when looked at from an auterist perspective, as it’s most likely Coppala’s most personal film of that decade. Of course given that his other films of that decade were Godfather III, The Rainmaker, and Jack, the competition was not fierce.

At it’s core stripped of all it’s supernatural hugger mugger, Coppala’s Dracula is basically an old guy who gets mad at the Catholic church for along time and then comes back to it in a time of need. It’s about our duty to God and his to us, and the limits if there are any to his forgiveness. Sure as far as theological complexity goes it’s not The Virgin Spring, or The Last Temptation Of Christ, but it’s an interesting look at a director who never really seemed interested in testing such waters before, even you know when he was making a film about Shenanigans at The Vatican.

All in all Dracula is a mess. But it’s a glorious one.

Post Note: Truth in criticism, the recent DVD edition is pretty tremendous. From the art, to the docs, to the design, to the transfer, this is one of the coolest discs I’ve ever owned. If you have the original release this one is actually worth the double dip.

Friday, October 24, 2008

31 Days Of Horror. Day #13: The Shining


The Shining is not my favorite Stanley Kubrick film. Infact it’s probably my least favorite Stanley Kubrick film. The instance where his style and material simply didn’t mesh.

The reason’s pretty simple, I’ve just never been able to separate the film from book. I’m a big Stephen King fan. King is always going to have a special place in my heart, he was after all my first "favorite" author, the one who taught me to love and seek out an author's voice. Ever since I snuck into the adult section of the library on a fourth grade field trip and grabbed The Dead Zone, I've been a loyal fan. And The Shining is quiet possibly King’s best work.

The Shining as a novel is a terrifyingly human horror story. Jack Torrance is arguably King's greatest creation. In the novel Jack Torrance is a good man, but one who has been given a long hard look on multiple occasions of exactly what he's capable of. Yet somehow he’s managed to pick up the pieces, and life is just starting to reward him for it. His wife and child are starting to trust him again, his career might finally pick up...

And then he has to go to that fucking hotel.

The way it works the way every room, every task, ever whisper exploits the still fresh cracks in Jack until he just completely falls apart is terrifying and terrible to behold. You see a man who is desperately trying to hold it together, who knows what'll happen when he backslides. And then he does.

But even then Torrance is still in there, and what happens at the climax is haunting.

It's great, a fantastic piece of characterization and story telling. Like I said arguably King's best. A very human monster as terrifying as he is pitiful.

So of course the first thing Kubrick did was go "Naw fuck all that."

My problem with Kubrick’s Shining is that, there are plenty of scares in but no tragedy. Nicholson is just being "Wacky Jack" from there very beginning. There's no downfall, no good man destroyed. Just Nicholson going from "Raving Looney" to slightly crazier. There’s never a sense for one second that The Torrances have ever functioned as a loving family, so the destruction of the unit means nothing. While Danny in the book is a kid struggling with a power he doesn’t understand, and the revelation of who “Tony” is turns out to be quite poignant, in the movie he’s just a weird little kid who talks to his finger. And while Shelly Duvall does a fine job looking exhausted and terrified, she doesn’t bring a whole lot else to the table. In the book Wendy is an intelligent and strong woman every bit Jack’s equal. With the mousy Duvall in the lead there’s a real strange sense of “How the hell did these two get together?” It’s hard to imagine her and Jack having so much as conversation, let alone a marriage together. It doesn’t help that Nicholson looks about twice her age through the entire film.

There’s that same strange stiltedness to almost every conversation between the living in The Shining. It’s almost like one of Lynch’s REALLY weird movies like Lost Highway or Inland Empire. It’s almost like everyone is speaking in code. For example in the opening when Jack and and the hotel’s manager Ullman discuss the job at hand, Ullman tells Jack the store of Grady going crazy and killing his family. Jack’s response is to tell Ullman not to worry his wife love’s horror movies.

Wait…What the fuck?

Imagine that conversation in real life for a second.

“A madman murdered his wife and children!”

“Ooh Spooky!”

In terms of style it's magnificent. In terms of humanity There's simply nothing there. (And I know that's a charge often used against Kubrick, but I'd like to point out that this is the only movie where that accusation rings true as a detrement for me. While a certain detachment is needed to study the uppercrust of 18th century Europe in Barry Lyndon, the bizarre underground circles of Manhattan in Eyes Wide Shut, or the dystopian future of Clockwork Orange, the style doesn’t really work when it’s applied to a working class family in the eighties).

However, I decided that this time I really was going to give The Shining the benefit of the doubt. Put the book out of my mind, and see the movie with fresh eyes and to give the movie the benefit of the doubt I brought my good friend Herb McSmoky Weed along to the screening. Sadly the results where pretty much the same, if a little more so. I came away from the movie with more impressed by what Kubrick was going for, and yet more disenchanted then ever with how he did it. Still I saw enough interesting wrinkles this time to movie The Shining past Killer’s Kiss. Keep reaching for the stars.

Let’s start off with the good, The Shining’s style particularly when shooting the supernatural, is pretty freaking amazing. Kubrick shoots the various ghosts who show up, in away that is almost a hyper reality. Always shot in Kubrick’s trademark “frames within frames” (The two little girls first in a doorframe then in a hallway, Lloyd between the mirrors of the bar, The Old Lady in the bathtub, Grady between the urinals, the final shot of Jack in a literal frame within a frame, etc. etc. etc.) In scenes like the iconic “two little girls” shot, or the one where Wendy witnesses a man in a dogsuit giving a blow job, the feeling is that they are the intruders, the impermanent ones, after all as Grady puts it, they “have always been there.” It’s the Torrances who are where they don’t belong.



However, the best haunting scenes are the ones in Barroom’s Bathroom. While a bit less flashy then the film’s better known scares, the bathroom scene is the only one where the movie comes close to recreating the bone deep terror of the book. One of Kubrick’s little signatures, was to have some of the worst things happen in the bathroom, man at his most savage at the place where he is least dignified. And once you see the bathroom Kubrick is using…



… Damn you know some bad shit is about to happen in there. The scene that follows takes a lot of the stuff that Kubrick has been doing and really makes it work. The long takes and pauses in the conversation, the way the conversations seem to almost be in code and makes it all work for one chilling sequence. Bizarre N bomb dropping aside (come on Stanley did they have to be racist ghosts?)



The film technique keeps you on edge. It just keeps doing things that are a little off, from how they are normally done. It’s constant use of fades for example give it a strange sense of inevitability. A cut suggests a jump, two unrelated things that become related and associated. It’s more or less the building block of filmic language, and the missing space between the two cuts, suggest some amount of free will in how the characters got to that place. The fade doesn’t allow that luxury, one scene becomes the next which fades into the next and into the next, there is no possible scene except the one that follows it.

Another little thing that I found odd this time, though I’m willing to concede that it might be a simple trick of my DVD’s mix, or my speakers, is the fact that a lot of Kubrick’s orchestral score doesn’t seem to be score at all but source music. Particularly in some of the scenes with Nicholson, the music seems to be coming directly from the room. Though we’re never shown a record player or anything of the like. It’s just one of those things, that makes you go “Weird.” Like the idea that Torrance thought it’d be a good plan to bring a shitload of Bartok LPs to an isolated hotel where everyone would be on edge.

But then again that is the type of character that Nicholson is playing. What the man lacks in pathos and nuisance he makes up for in pure crazy. Of course that’s the whole problem, from scene one he’s just playing wacky jack. Even in his “normal” scenes he seems on edge, it would be a surprise if he DIDN’T end up killing his family.

Still this time out I did have more appreciation for Nicholson’s performance. It’s almost Kabuki. It’s a rare scene where he wears more then one expression, it’s like before every sequence he’s affixed a Jack Nicholson mask to face, and convey’s the character through motion alone.

Unfortunately if anything my antipathy for Duval and whoever the hell the little kid was only grew. Still even this adds some interesting shades to the story. Duval is so bowled under by Nicholson that the film almost becomes a feminist horror movie, where marriage=loss of identity=death.

The Shining also loses steam in it’s somehow acclaimed ending. After the famed “Here’s Johnny” scene the movie just kinda sorta falls apart. Jack chases after his son, though he never gets close enough to be a threat, yelling. While Wendy stumble around the hotel seeing things that really aren’t that scary. Eventually they leave. And then Kubrick shows a picture.

The End.

The Shining as an adaptation is terrible, as entertainment it’s flawed and as a work of art it’s frustrating. But damned if I won’t keep coming back to, Kubrick’s put too much into it to ever have it be dismissed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

31 Days Of Horror. Day #12: The Funhouse


(This review has been repurposed to make benefit of glorious Final Girl Film Club. All hail brutal head of state Stacie Ponder)




I'm not mad at Tobe Hooper just disapointed. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is possibly the scariest movie ever made. It’s almost a quantum leap beyond any other in the genre. It’s a singular and masterful experience and I can’t help but wish the director behind it wasn’t such a one hit wonder. Sure Poltergeist is great, but we all know that Hooper was just a front on that one, my affection for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre II is well documented (The Aero is playing for their all night horror film festival and I cannot wait), the only other Hooper film worth half a damn is Lifeforce, which coasts by with an ungodly amount of nudity and camp.

Not exactly the formula for a winning career.

But there was one other Hooper film I’ve always been interested in seeing, and after receiving and an email after my TCM2 review my interest was furthered. I mean come on, Creepy ass carnival? Albino serial killer who wears a Frankenstein mask? A whole bunch of animatronics? No way this thing wouldn’t at least be entertaining.


Unfortunately for me Hooper FOUND a way to make it unentertaining. Congrats buddy keep reaching for the stars.

The film gets off to a great start with a fantastic credits sequence that consists of disturbing animatronics acting out the same repetitive motions again and again. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t merely a disturbing motif, but the blueprint that Hooper built his movie on.

Things pretty much go to shit the moment the film starts. Opening with a bizarrely protracted Halloween like POV from a little boy as he selects a knife and mask. The scene dances over the lines separating Parody, Homage, and Ripoff pretty freely. But eventually the “killer” goes into the bathroom where he rips open the curtain on his naked sister and starts smacking her with a giant fake phallic knife, while he photographs it. Ho-Ho!

I mean come on we’ve all been there right? The weird thing is the film plays the scene like it’s just cute kid shit, instead of you know, seriously disturbed behavior. Eventually the sister manages to stop wondering what the fuck is wrong with her brother long enough to get dressed and meet her grease monkey boyfriend and his two fodder, I mean friends to go out for a fun night at The Carnival that has pulled into town, having been chased out of the last one for murdering a couple of children.

No I’m fucking serious, they keep talking about how all these kids bodies where found in the carnival in the last town it was in, and nobody gives a fuck. They’re so nonchalant about it that you think they where debating the quality of the fried dough.

Anyway the group walks around The Carnival for a long long time. No seriously, a really really really long long time. Causing me to adopt a Milhouse like whine and ask “When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?” The other thing is the carnival is just bad. Not like ooh scary Something Wicked This Way Comes bad, but bad bad. If you bought a ticket to this carnival you would demand my money back. And I swear to God by the end of the film it will feel like you have seen every damn inch of the place. Imagine how tedious something like Last House On The Left would be if it just followed a couple girls out to a rock concert, with no hint of the fact that some crazed hippies would eventually come and kill them.

Eventually the four decide they love the terrible carnival so much that they want to spend the night there, so they hide in the Funhouse. Deformed Albino comes as do some of the most telegraphed "scares" I have ever fucking seen. You know the rest of the story. But I swear to God by the time it happens you won’t care.

The movie basically boils down to a few unpleasant people and one seriously disturbing kid bumbling around a terrible Carnival for awhile. If that sounds like your cup of tea, enjoy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

31 Days Of Horror. Day #11: Frailty




When Jesus Camp came out the trendy ad line was “ It’s the scariest horror film of the year.” But if you really want some horror in the fundamentalist vein, then check out this little doozy; a film guaranteed to have you looking sideways at those nice Baptist’s across the street for a month.

Frailty follows the story of two little boys. Their mother’s dead but they have a kind and loving father, and as the movie opens their biggest concern is whether to go see Big Trouble In Little China or The Warriors over at the Bijou that weekend. Then suddenly out of the blue their father wakes them up in the middle of the night to tell them that God has come to him in a vision and given him a list of demons. The end of days is coming at it’s his duty to kill them before the war begins. Only problem is the demons look and act just like real people. Daddy’s never been crazy before. What do you do?

Frailty is powered by the one two punch of Bill Paxton's convincing lead performance, and his stylish yet subtle direction (who knew). The way he plays his character is a wonder, never taking the easy way out, showing moments of compassion and doubt in creating a very human monster, one who never for a moment considers he's doing wrong. Also worth noting, this is probably the last film before Matthew McConaughy just gave right the fuck up on the whole "acting" thing and started doing 500 crunches a day.

Frailty doesn’t lay on the gore and guts, but it is one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. It gets inside your head and does some damage there. The mental thumbscrews keep twisting as you are put directly in the place of these two boys. It does its job with a Hitchcockian level of skill. And in a time when Religious fanatism (I’m a practicing Catholic so no pissed of emails please) seems like it's about to swallow up all remnants of rationality, it’s truly frightening.

31 Days Of Horror. Day #10: The Descent

While the whole torture porn fad that has swept horror has created a decent horror movie or two, its nice to see a movie that goes about giving you the screaming mimis the old fashioned way. The Descent is such a movie. While it seems odd to call a movie that features blood, guts, and cannabilism charmingly old fashioned, this is indeed the point we’ve reached in our society. Yadayadayada kids these days have no morals, no where is my sour mash. Sorry about that. Back to the Descent. The Descent follows a group of weekend warriors whose annual grrrl power trip takes an unexcpected turn when they find themselves in an uncharted cave where they are menaced by, something or a whole lot of somethings. The film is almost a catalogue of things you might be afraid of. The Dark? Check. Claustephobia? Check. Heights? Check. Madness? Betrayl? Death? A Bunch of inbred cannibals who want to eat you? Check. Check. Check. And one big ol’ Giant check on the last one. The film never lets up its pressure and it will make you squirm in no uncertain terms. To quote Dudly Moore, See The Decent and it won’t just scare you, It’ll fuck you up for life!

31 Days Of Horror. Day #9: Piranha



As is well documented I love Joe Dante. Dante is something of a cinematic anarchist, someone whose films often play as a loving Mad Magazine parody of themselves. Someone who makes horror movies with a style that suggests that he’d like nothing more then to have a bunch of monsters running around terrorizing the populace (or given the last couple of compromised movies he’s had to make, perhaps he’d rather have them terrorizing the studio system). Piranha is Joe Dante’s first movie as a solo director (he had previously co directed Hollywood Blvd with Rock N’ Roll Highschool’s Alan Arkush) and aside from Matinee and Gremlins 2 (We’ll talk about why that one’s genius some other time) probably his purist. You can practically hear Dante giggling through the run time barely able to believe what he’s getting away with. Made for Roger Corman during AIP’s heydey Piranha plays like one of the old William Castle cheapies that has gone completely nuts. Er... More so.

When a school of mutant Piranha’s designed by Uncle Sam to hunt Charlie are unceremoniously dumped in mountain river things get nasty quick. And before you know it tastelessness becomes an art form. Our intrepid heroes try to stop the nasty little beasties but without much success. Piranha is the type of movie where a gang of Mutant Piranhas and a children’s summer camp get VERY well acquainted with each other. The movie almost plays like a dare, with Dante uping the ante on how far he's going until you're SURE he won't go through with it. You keep expecting Joe Dante to pull his punches, and the glorious bastard never even seems tempted. By the time of the climatic feeding frenzy things have gone from bad to downright apocalyptic, with a solution to the problem that probably made The EPA feel like they were watching “Spingtime For Hitler.” This movie clucks “how dreadful” with a big ol’ smile on it’s face.

Cough

31 Days Of Horror. Day #8: The Strangers




Horror movies are all about pressure points. The best tap into primal areas of unease, hitting us in our animal instinct, distant echoes of the feeling of beening hunted, lost, and in the dark. Some even create new ones. For example, before I saw The Strangers I had no idea that I feared a group of people in creepy masks coming to my house at four in the morning and killing me for fun. Yet since I’ve seen The Strangers, the thought has occurred to me several times at three in the morning when in the grips of Insomnia I go out for a cigarette and am forced to stare down the long deserted suburban roads surrounding my apartment. Thanks a lot movies!

I make no qualms about the fact that as far as I’m concerned The Strangers is the straight up most terrifying movie of the new decade. The idea is simplicity itself, a couple on the verge of breaking up after a failed marriage proposal drives to the rural family home of the man. If you walked into the film blind, you might think you where watching a simple Richard Linklater character study for the first fifteen minutes or so, then comes a knock on the door, a woman asks for a man that neither of the couple has ever heard of.

Things start to go awry very quickly. Starting with simple harassment, and ending with… well best to discover for yourself. The Strangers is so great because so much of it flies into direct opposition of horror today. Rather then scaring the audience with cheap editing tricks and loud noises The Strangers is a very quite film, shot in long takes, that draw most of their terror from negative space. Every shot contains a place where one of The Strangers could fill, and even if nothing horrifying is happening, you’re on the edge of your seat wating to see if they’ll show up or not, such as in what has quickly become the film's most famous shot, fifty two seconds into the trailer.



While it’s not exactly a gore free film, The Strangers body count is almost absurdly low next to the overkill of torture porn, even the most intense and terrifying scenes are such because of what their implications are, rather then what they show. It's telling that the films biggest scare comes not from a bit of violence, but the simple indifference of a line reading.

When watching Modern movies it’s always a bit of a crap shoot as far as what will last and what will fade. Instant classics fade from memory in half a decade, and the most maligned films often stay with audiences for a long long while. This year I’ve so far seen three films, that I think will be with film fans for decades. The Strangers is one of them, it’ll be scaring people for a very long time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

31 Days Of Horror. Day #7: Zombie


You have to love that tagline “We Are Going To Eat You.” Doesn’t really leave any room for interpretation does it?

Out of the three Godfathers of Italian horror Fulci is my least favorite. While Bava and Argento are true artists twisting the grotesque into some truly singular work, Fulci has always been more like a smart ass five year old who asks if you like “See Food”. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s really really good at it and I really dig some of his films. The Beyond is groovy and The Psychic is fun, but for my money his best is City Of The Living Dead whose alternative title could have been “HOLY SHIT CRAZY STUFF IS HAPPENING!” It’s not that Fulci’s not funny, it’s that all he has is balls, and sometimes you need a bit more.

To be fair they are some huge balls, Zombie’s real title is Zombie 2. The reason? Dawn Of The Dead was a huge hit in Italy, only over there, it was known as Zombie, as a result Fulci titled his film Zombie 2, in order to trick people into thinking it was a sequel. Like I said, fairly huge balls. On a related note I’m proud to announce that I plan to begin shooting Batman 3 within the week, it’ll be awesome.

Zombie starts off well with an abandoned boat pulling into New York harbor, the coast guard investigates and is promptly eaten by a ravenous ambassador of the undead. An intrepid reporter and the daughter of the guy who owned the zombie boat, track it to a small forgotten island in the Caribbean where apparently (it’s a bit fuzzy here) a pissed off Voodoo priest is resurrecting hordes of the undead. But yeah who cares about what’s going on when Fulci keeps throwing Crazy Shit on the screen. Look it’s a Zombie fighting a Shark! And Over there Conquistador Zombies! Hey death by giant splinter in the eye! And if all else fails, Exploding Heads, Exploding Heads, Exploding Heads.

Zombie actually passed out barf bags in the theaters on it’s American run, and while it’s giddy ultra violence is tame in comparison to today’s “REAL PEOPLE IN REAL PAIN” style of horror, it’s still good grue soaked fun. Zombie might not be anything particularly special, but it’s got a good thing going and it sticks with it. Plus as previously mentioned there a zombie conquistadors and a Zombie Vs. Shark Battle Royale. You’ve got to respect that.

31 Days Of Horror. Day #6: Black Sabbath



Mario Bava is the best filmmaker you probably haven’t heard of. A small listing of his accomplishments would include inspiring the invention of Heavy Metal, Giallo, the careers of Tim Burton and Joe Dante, and the fact that Boris Karloff died with dignity. Not a bad career by any stretch. Like the best Italian Careers Bava’s contains a staggering amount of films that cover hardboiled crime, spaghetti westerns, monster movies, sex comedies, and Viking Films. But he’s best known for his horror films, with good reason. He’s fucking great at making them.

Going over Bava’s career is like reading a list of milestones, he’s the first to show the dead physically rising from there graves, the first to show blood coming from a wound, the first to make a giallo, the first to do horror in space, the first to make a modern slasher movie. Hell if there never was such a thing as film, Bava would probably have gone ahead and invented it.

Black Sabbath is an anthology film but it breaks ties with the genre by actually being good. It’s made up of three tales each done in a different style. It’s a cool little movie because as much as any could, it really showcases the multiple modes of Bava, showcasing his skills at giallo, supernatural horror, and the balls to the wall nutso gothic extravaganzas that he’s best known for.

Bookended by two funky little sequences shot with an incongruously dubbed Boris Karloff, (The former in which the great man gives an introduction that can be charitably described as long winded, and the latter in which he helpfully informs you that what you have been watching is infact a movie) Black Sabbath gets off with a great little slow burning Giallo where a nubile young woman is terrorized by terrifying phone calls and calls her gilted ex lesbian lover for protection. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s a real solid piece of moviemaking that ratchets up the tension before a final twist worthy of EC Comics.

In the second sequence we get the crazy ass Bava we know and love. Karloff plays a man who has just returned home after slaying a vampire who can only prey on the blood of those he loved in life. Guess what happens next. This is some prime Bava driven by the gaudy sense of style, a dark sense of humor, and extreme lack of sentimentality that powers his best work. It also features what is arguably Karloff’s best performance. While he is dubbed, very very badly, it really works. Karloff’s physicality was always unparelled, and in a weird way despite the fact that the role is somewhat dialogue heavy, it’s something of a return to the purely physical style that made him great. Without a word Karloff simotanously invests his character with a great sense of sorrow, weariness, and a truly threatening presence.

But true to form Bava saved the best for last. I don’t even want to say anything about the final segement, best to let you discover things for yourself. All I can say is if you can make it through without curling into a fetal postion you’re one cold fish.

Anyway long story short, Bava’s the man check him out.

31 Days Of Horror. Day #5: Deep Red


You’ve gotta love The Italians. Be it Westerns, Epics, or Horror movies, Italian filmmakers always seem to have a way of saying “You’re doing it wrong!” by making their films ten times as crazy as anyone else. A film like Deep Red has more truly crazy shit in it’s first five minutes then most American films have in their runtimes. Opening with a guy getting knifed to death infront of a Christmas tree and kid, then moving on to a protagonist switcheroo worthy of Hitchcock, before a fetishtic murder preperation, that would make David Lynch swoon, all climaxing a spectacularly bloody murder via meat clever and window. Then the credits roll.


Blow Up’s David Hemmings plays an American Jazz Pianist who witnesses the death of Swedish psychic in Italy. Instead of lounging about Mod culture and drowning in ennui, he instead tries to solve the case with the help of an intrepid Lois Lane type.

Argento’s detractors say he’s a hack whose movies don’t pay attention to little things like character, plot, sense, or common human decency. And while it’s true that Argento has largely devolved into Self Parody, anything he’s done post 1987 is pretty much a wash (though I do have a bizarre affection for his batshit loony Masters Of Horror episode Pelts). But at his best Argento’s films couple a crazed sensuality with an unparelled knack to make the utterly ludicrous completely believable and the grotesque strangely beautiful. When someone gets decapitated in Argento film you may flinch but at the same time you’re oddly impressed.

The trick that Argento pulls here is he makes each of the killings relatable. Let’s face it most of us can’t relate to the feeling of being cut up with a bucksaw by a gibbering madman, we simply have no frame of reference. But most of us do know what it’s like to scald ourselves, or bark or shin on the coffee table, or get caught on something. What Argento does is he simply takes these common accidents and raises them to the ultimate degree. Each of the killings draws on a common sense memory, the result is that half seeing Deep Red in a large theater, as I was lucky enough to do is watching your fellow 200 or so patrons positively writhe as shit gets worse then they could possibly imagine.

All the work of the Argento touch, before the movies done you’ll see an Evil doll that makes the one from Saw look about as terrifying as Elmo, a haunted mansion, a sadistic little girl, entombed bodies, novelty decapitations, and even a little time for discussion of Jazz theory and gender roles. A Good Time Will Be Had By All.

31 Day's Of Horror Day #4 Friday The 13th Part 2


Note: Yes I am a terrible person. My mother is justly ashamed with me. Time to try to burn through the Horror movies I’ve been watching.

Day Four: Friday The 13th Part 2



Friday The Thirteenth 13th Part 2 is the prototypical slasher movie. Now that’s sure to raise some eyebrows as it is among other things, a sequel but bear with me. Psycho and Halloween are too elegant, Last House On The Left and Texas Chainsaw Massarce are too gritty and bleak, even the first Friday The 13th didn’t get the brew quite right, making it more of a mystery then anything else.

What I mean when I say Friday The Thirteenth 2 is a prototypical flick, I don’t mean it’s the first. I mean it’s what I think of when I think of slasher movies. To my knowledge this is the first movie to gather everything that I think about when I think of a slasher movie. Ultra Violence, Gratitous Nudity, Incredibly un PC Deaths (wait until you get a load of the guy in the wheelchair), anti social behavior by a murderous mute hillbilly, crazy old codgers who pronounce doom for our hapless protagonists, long aimless passages of pot smoking and drinking, cat’s jumping out of places cats normally don’t jump out of, heavily wooded isolated areas perfect for nubile young coeds to lose their footing. This things got it all.

It’s really simplicity itself, Nubile young camp counselors move into heavily wooded area haunted by an angry undead hillbilly with a bag over his head (coincidently Jason is a lot scary tho less marketable when he is burlap sack man IMHO), Angry Undead Hillbilly kills them.

However, for a bit of truth in critism, Part 3 does have the better theme. Of course Part 3 has one of the greatest themes ever.



Honestly I want that played at my funeral.

Now as an aside, I just want to say that I think the term Torture Porn is pretty nonsensical. Even in the most ruthless and worthless of these films it’s clear your supposed to be siding with the victims and not the murderers. That said, it is somewhat telling that I don’t own a single film in this “genre” and I’ve got a pretty prodigious horror collection. I think the reason that people give these “Torture Porn” films more shit then they gave the slasher films doesn’t have to do so much with the violence of the films, but with what happens between the acts of violence. The Slasher films as a whole have a pretty light tone. You figure about fifteen minutes of actual violence and fifteen of tension and anticipation, that leaves an hour to fill. The Slasher movies tended to fill that hour with nudity, sex, herb smoking, drinking, practical jokes, Hell if you subtract the killings most Slasher movies are films about a bunch of friends having a good time. The Torture Porn films don’t really have that. They tend to fill the time between slashings with the characters either in a state of panic, or waxing existential, or suffering over their tortured past. Have a couple friends over, put on a slasher movie, and break open a twelve pack and you all are likely to have a good time. Try the same equation with a “Torture Porn” film and you’ll be lucky if your bud’s don’t slit their wrists on the way out. In other words, it’s the oppressiveness of the tone not the aggressiveness of the violence that pisses people off.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The End Credit's Roll...

So we come to it at last. As anyone who has read this column, or knows me personally knows, I’m not usually one who lacks for words. But I sit here at my computer and I simply don’t know what to say. I knew one day The Insomniac would end, both in a zen “All Things Must Pass” sort of way and in the literal sense that I knew that the past two years have been really tough. But still I can’t believe it. So I look around my room, staring back from me on my desk top I see my wallpaper, a mural with The Dude, One of The Furies From The Warriors, Alex De Large, Frank Booth and Frank Bunny, Ed Wood, Divine, and countless others staring back at me. I look around my room at the posters that line my wall, at the obscene number of books, and Movies, and Comics that I’ve crammed into my small apartment. I look at these and I wonder if they would be here without The Insomniac Video. And if the question “Would I have a lot of neat stuff?” seems shallow to you (And anyone who loves what they love, I mean REALLY loves it knows that it’s not.) let me pose an alternative one, “Would I be here without The Insomniac Video?” I’m not so sure.

But let’s start with the first question. Let’s get something straight, knowing what you should see, really doesn’t matter unless you can see it. Now with Netflix if you want to bone up on your Finnish Animation about Leopards, the entire genre is just a button click away. But this wasn’t always so you either had a chain like Blockbuster, that censored their movies, liquated their backstock, and whose Foreign and Classics section filled half a shelf if you were lucky. Or an independent mom and pop shop run by people who rented videos as a simple business plan, with no more passion than someone who sold carburetors, and no more understanding. Then there was The Insomniac. A place for film lovers by film lovers. When you walked into The Insomniac it felt like the entirety of film was at your fingertips. Everything from John Ford to Jackie Chan, Buster Keaton to Bertolucci, Brian DePalma, The Coen Brothers, Tim Burton, Fellini, Cassevettes, John Woo, Zhang Yimou, Scorsese, Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Soderbergh, Mario Bava, Jim Jaramusch, Dario Argento, Altman, Sergio Leone, Coppala, Woody Allen, Beat Takeshi, Battle Royale when it was still practically an Urban Legend, Francois Truffaunt, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, Raoul Walsh, David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, Samuel Fuller. And not just their classics either, sure it was easy enough to find Stagecoach or The Searchers, but The Insomniac let you bask in ALL of their films good or bad, major or minor let you truly see their careers as singular works of art. When you walked into The Insomniac, that cramped little space with mildew stained rugs and cinderblock walls, it became magical. The Store spoke to you. it a vision of film as an infinite buffet, where most were happy to take whatever crap was shoveled at him. But the canny ones could create a fantastic meal for themselves by digging a bit deeper.

But if that wasn’t all The Insomniac was, not to me anyway. When I discovered The Insomniac I was a lonely, disaffected, misfit. Basically friendless and very very lost. When people have bandied about the phrase Alternative to the point that it’s now basically meaningless, but the fact is “Altenative” exists because there are some people who desperately NEED that alternative. Not because they want to rebel, or be shocking or whatever teenage bullshit usually gets tossed around, but because that’s just how they are. They don’t see a place for themselves. They have to make one.

The Insomniac gave me that alternative, told me I wasn’t alone, taught me that different didn’t mean bad, it just meant different. Suddenly a whole new world opened up for me and the affect that it had on me can’t be calculated. That’s the reason I do what I do, whatever that is. The reason I write these columns, the reason I bang my head against the wall trying to make movies. It’s not because I’m hubristic enough to think that I’m so great that everyone should listen to me. But it’s because I have to put it out there, this secret handshake to others, to try and let them know they’re not alone, even if it’s as simple as “Hey I like the same stuff as you.” It’s important. I’m living proof. The Insomniac Video didn’t just give me movies it gave me hope.

So finally here we are at the end and all I can say is thank you. Thank you Bob thank you John, thanks to two of the best friends and mentors I’ve ever had. Thank you for giving me a place. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

The Insomniac Video Is Dead. Long Live The Insomniac Video.

Life Is What Happens While Your Busy Making Other Plans...

Sorry I know I suck.

Real life has been kicking my ass in a big way. But I'm planning on catching up now with a vengeance.

Friday, October 3, 2008

31 Days Of Horror #3 The Keep




The Keep was Mann’s debut, and in an auspicious beginning the studio hacked out forty minutes and shoved the film on the bottom half of a double bill. Mann wanted to make a movie about the nature of evil and the power of the unknown, the studios wanted a movie about a giant Golem that ripped the heads off Nazis. Aside from actually dragging Mann behind their cars it’s unclear just what more the studio could have done to ensure the films failure. Which is a shame, because it means a whole lot of people missed out on what was one of the best horror films of the eighties.

The Keep, tells the story of a group of Nazi’s sent to guard a pass in Romania, the pass is inhabited by a small village, and a freaking gignormous keep, and if Indiana Jones has taught us anything, it’s that Nazi’s + Ancient Forces = Tears For All Involved. And that’s science! Say this for Michael Mann, the guy can do epic. The Keep draws much of it’s power from it’s sheer scale. The film is Herzogian in the way it shows men dwarfed by the world around them. First the Carpathian Mountains and Forest that frame the film, we always see them from a human scale, rising out of the frame almost unimaginably tall, and then in The Keep itself where Mann had access to what are either some of the biggest sets or best miniatures I’ve ever seen.



There’s not a lot in The Keep, but the space plays with your head. The Keep also draws power from scale in a Lovecraftian sense. Like the best of the author’s work, The Keep suggests the sheer size of the universe we hang suspended in and how limited our scope of it really is, it suggests forces so powerful that they could destroy us all if they so much as twitched in their sleep. The Keep isn’t a flawless film. It most certainly has all the signs of something that unceremoniously had forty minutes cut out of it, especially in the end where characters will switch from benevolent, to raving mad, to fine again in the space of the scene, and a subplot involving Scott Glenn, goes almost laughably underexplored, in it’s current form he seems to be some kind of Angel who has the power to make women want him. Still on the whole this is an impressive and epic film long overdue for re-evaluation.

And though I'd never condone such a thing. The entire thing is on Youtube. So you know... Go for it... Here's Part 1. Click on it for the other parts.



TOMORROW: THE PROTOTYPICAL SLASHER MOVIE AND IT'S NOT ANY OF THE ONE'S YOU'RE THINKING OF.

First Wackowski Brothers Interview In Like A Decade


It's not much but it's pretty cool.



http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081002/COMMENTARY/810020297

Thursday, October 2, 2008

31 Days Of Horror #2 The Tingler



The Tingler is a movie by William Castle, the great showman of American independent cinema. For those of you who don’t know Castle was a filmmaker who did any and everything to have his movies be entertaining. Year’s before the midnight movie phenomenon, he didn’t just want films to be passively consumed, he wanted them to be an event. Some Brundlefly cross of a circus, freak show, and revivalist tent, all fueled by posters and trailers that promised the world and a new level of “shock sensation”, never mind what they actually delivered. He staged protests against his own films, made his patrons sign insurance forms and get “medical exams” before viewing his film, lest they be frightened to death by just how awesome it was. He brought skeletons into the theater, made blood corn, and in the case of the Tingler wired the seats of the theater with joy buzzers. He was all about pushing the envelop both in the gruesome content and the presentation of his films, and though they are pretty tame today, it’s not hard to understand how in the safe sanitized fifties they hit like an atom bomb.

All of the Castle films are entertaining, but I’ve chosen The Tingler by the virtue that it is basically completely batshit insane. Staring Vincent Price at his feyest, The Tingler casts him as a corner with a side project where he does scientific experiments on the subject of fear. He discovers The Tingler, a parasitically creature that lives in base of the spine, and feeds off fear (You know that tingle at the base of your spine? That’s the Tingler feeding off your fear juice). Luckily the little bugger can be dispatched with a simple scream, but when Vincent Price meets an acquaintance’s wife who is mute, well the wheels in his head get to turning, and he figures the best way to expirement with The Tingler is to shoot her full of LSD and then rip the thing out of her spine when it kills her. This is what is known as the ultimate Dick Move.


Now now to be fair Price drops acid himself first. And believe me, if you thought watching Jackie Gleason trip the light fantastic in Skidoo was strange, you haven’t seen anything compare to Price staring at a Skeleton moaning before trying to launch himself out of a window. It’s pretty awesome.

When The Tingler comes out there’s not a lot to be done with it. The thing looks like a plastic lobster and has just about the same range of motion, so it’s up to the intrepid cast to pretend that they are being overpowered by it’s mighty inertness.

Mixed in with all these Hijink’s is a subplot out of a justly forgotten B Noir where Price must keep his unfaithful harpy of a wife from ruining the life of her kid sister and bland fianc√©. All of a sudden it’s like the Vincent Price cut of Sin City with Price smacking her around while threatening to make a hole in her the size of a grapefruit. Underlying once and for all the lesson that you don’t fuck around with Vincent Price. Cause if you do he’ll smack you around, shoot you up with LSD, pull a lobster out of your spine, and then shoot you. And that’s something we can all use.

Tomorrow: Nazi’s Vs. Golems, Purchow Vs. Byrne, McKellan Vs. Old Age Makeup, and Why Scott Glenn Is A Pimp.

Proof That The Simpsons Can Still Be Funny...

Just not on the actual show.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

31 Days Of Horror: Day #1 The Howling



I love Joe Dante. He speaks to the anarchist in me. Dante makes monster movies that think that monsters are the greatest thing in the world, and our world would benefit by having some around to shake what needs shaking. His films are powered by a deep love for genre, a deep disdain for form, and energy that Tex Avery would envy. In away watching Gremlins 2 gets me just as excited about wrecking some havoc as Anarchy In The UK. Of course there is the slight difference that one makes me want to write some crazy shit and the other makes me want to throw beer bottles at cop cars.

In Dante’s world, Christmas is a day of bloody terror, the happy face sign is the mark of a serial killer, skyscrapers are there to be torn down, a summer camp is just a big buffet, a cute pet spawns ravenous monsters, Nuclear apocalypse is just an excuse for some kickass movies, Suburbia houses the biggest monsters of all, and Werewolves are very into “I’m OK, You’re OK.”

Dante is the first punk rock horror filmmaker, like the first generation of punk Dante simultaneously strips down and soups up his films. Taking them down to the basics and then letting those basics rip. Without Dante no Sam Raimi, no Peter Jackson, in short no fun.



The Howling follows a newsreporter who finds herself used by the police in a sting operation against a particularly nasty serial killer. Things quickly go south and she finds herself in the depth trapped in the seediest peepshow in LA’s Red Light Disctrict (which is saying quite a bit) as a psychopathic werewolf shows her his homemade snuff. Things only go down hill from there.

Suffering from post traumatic stress, her psychiatrists suggests that she take it easy at the colony. A little retreat he has up in Northern California. Just an isolated heavily wooded area where you can unwind and enjoy barbeques, group therapy, lycanthropy, orgies, cattle mutilation, and the occasionally bloodlust fueled murderous rage. Spoiler alert, this does not alleviate her stress.

Like all of Dante’s films (well all of his films aside from Looney Tunes Back Inaction see what I did there?) The Howling is a blast to watch because Dante himself is having a blast. As he packs his film with old horror movies, old horror stars (You have not lived until you’ve seen Werewolf Slim Pickens and John Carradine), cartoons, and the crazy gore effects his deviant mind can imagine. Here one of the main werewolves decides to give Dee Wallace a piece of his mind.



The Howling is simply put one of the sickest, craziest, funniest, monster movies ever made. The perfect film to kick off the countdown to Halloween with.

Tomorrow: William Castle, Vincent Price, LCD, and The Ultimate Dick Move!