Sunday, October 31, 2010

31 Days Of Horror Day 31: Fright Night/Don't Look In The Basement


I made it back home with my sanity still somewhat intact after a night of great horror movie debauchery at the great Aero Theater. A night spent with good friends, with good films in a great theater, what better way to celebrate Halloween?

What's more, I also finished yet another 31 Days Of Horror. When I appeared on On The Stick I was asked if I felt like I was running out of films to cover. Far from it. There's actually going to be a few bits of overflow in early November. Films I couldn't quite sandwich into 31 Days for various reasons. But which I wouldn't dream of not covering.

Still, 31 Days of one genre is 31 days of one genre. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was a bit fatigued, as I made it into the final week.

Of course all of that went away when I came in contact with the two afore mentioned movies.

Fright Night, is one of those heartening films that remind you that no matter how thoroughly you've scoured a genre, you've never seen everything. For whatever reason I'd never viewed the horror comedy classic until now and was thoroughly delighted to find it a great little movie. On Par with the likes of Army Of Darkness full of interesting wrinkles (I reserve the right to do a more indepth review of it later. Right Now I'm bushed) as well as some of the greatest practical effects I've ever seen.

The Aero also makes it policy to usually program in some horror movie to which I genuinely have no idea how to react to. (In this case with Blood Birthday as well, two). Whether The Children, the film that features a paunchy country good ole boy sheriff chopping the arms off of small radioactive children or Demons (No explanation necessary).

Of Don't Look In The Basement, I'm not going to say anything, since everyone deserves to walk into this one unspoiled. I will only say that it was one of the most batshit crazy things I've ever seen on the big screen (And remember I've seen The Candy Snatchers) and it worked the audience into a lather not very much seen outside of Pentecostal Prayer Meetings.

The rest of the festival was good as well, the well meaning and ambitious, but ultimately not very good Candyman, the aforementioned Madness of Bloody Birthday, as well as Phantasm, and Cementary Man, a movie I have never liked but I now realize makes perfect sense under extreme sleep depravation.

But beyond all that, I must return to those first two movies. If after 31 Days of force feeding horror, I can still be reached, entertained, and truly delighted, there is no other word for it, by two horror films as polar opposite as those two, well then the genre really does have magic. And I'll happily truck through 31 more days as long as I can.

Thanks for everyone who did 31 Days with me. Particularly those who the feature has introduced to the site. Here's hoping you'll stick around. It's going to be a great November...

Until next year, Happy Halloween, lets close the way we opened...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

31 Days Of Horror Day 30: Someone Asked Me To Be An Expert In Something Part 7

(Previous Somebody Asked Me To Be An Expert In Something were part of a Film Noir and then Neo Noir series that I was asked to help program and host. Starting with this entry, I am now the sole programmer, and the films will no longer be just crime films. Once again this is written for speech so I apologize for any irregularities of cadence)

Of all the films I’ve had the opportunity to show in this series, I Walked With A Zombie is the one I’m most excited about.

Out Of The Past, which was also directed by Jacques Tourneur was actually the first film I screened for this series, almost a year ago now. And as much as I truly love that film, I couldn’t help but be just a little sorry that I wasn’t showing this one.

This movie is a product not just of Jacques Tourneur but of Val Lewton, who in the forties produced a series of horror films which are among the finest ever made. Tourneur only made two films with Lewton. Though the two were lifelong friends and knew each other from years before when both worked for the legendary producer David O. Selznick. Saying the two influenced each other doesn’t’ seem quite strong enough. The other film the pair made was Cat People. Of the two Cat People remains the more well known, popular, and certainly more influential of the two.

But I would argue I Walked With A Zombie is the better film.

I Walked With A Zombie contains many elements usually found in Lewton. The literary allusions, with much of the film culled from Jane Eyre. His central female characters. What has been called his figure of beautiful sorrow. His level neutral view of the occult. The kind of darkness that led him to snap at one studio executive who claimed that his films had to many messages, “I Only have one message. And that is Death Is Good.”

But even among Lewton’s films I Walked With A Zombie stands apart.

Saying a movie is one of a kind is usually a trap. No matter how odd a movie may appear chances are there’s something that is at least a bit like it somewhere. But I can honestly say I don’t believe anything quite like this movie has been ever made before.
There is a rhythm and flux to this film that is unlike any I have ever seen. The possible exception being Night Of The Hunter. Calling a movie dream like is usually an easy out, but I Walked With A Zombie carries with it all the dread and poeticism of a real dream.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the plot or individual scenes, incase this would turn out to be your first experience with the film. I will only say of Lewton in general, that Horror is usually derived from a source of physical revulsion, while Terror comes from a source of mental revulsion. As someone suggests in Martin Scorsese’s superlative documentary on Lewton, From The Shadows. All of Lewton’s films are terror films.

Which is why I think Lewton’s films have held up so well. While so many older horror movies, say the films produced by Lewton’s rivals at Universal at the time, are watched today as camp or at the very least through a heavy filter of nostalgia, Lewton’s remain as cutting as the day they were released.

So please sit back and enjoy I Walked With A Zombie. I don’t think you’ve ever seen anything quite like it.

POST SCRIPT So, I'll be showing I Walked With A Zombie later this afternoon. Then racing down to LA to go see The Aero Theater's Fifth Annual Dusk Til Dawn Horrorthon. Which has for five years, proven to be the best night of horror filmgoing LA has to offer. As well as my personal favorite night of movie going of the year. Aside from the great programming and wonderful prints, The Aero creates a found Footage montage between each film that will drive men to madness and have you screaming "THE POSSIBILITY OF ME WORKING IS REMOTE!!!" At the top of your lungs. At four AM.

I wouldn't miss it For The World.

So if you're an LA Reader and you're not going to The Aero, well what the fuck is wrong with you? And if you're an LA reader and you are going to The Aero, please say hello. I'll be the one wearing the "Camp Crystal Lake Counselor" T-shirt, Pea Coat, and mainlining as many stimulants outside the theater on breaks as possible.

As I will be spending Halloween afternoon and possibly night with some LA friends, I hope you'll forgive me if Halloween's post goes up a bit later then normal.

If some disaster does strike though, let me take a moment to thank you for reading through 31 Days and wish you a Happy Halloween. There's some great stuff coming up this November. Including a few more horror films that I couldn't quite fit into 31 Days but couldn't stand the idea of not writing about. As well as a some great new stuff I'm really excited about.

So stay sick, stay scared. And Don't go trick or treating without your boomstick!

Friday, October 29, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 29: Just Before Dawn

I’d always heard that Just Before Dawn was a real gem of a movie. A true classic of the genre ripe for rediscovery. I went in with high expectations, and the only part of the above statement I would disagree with is I still think that underrates it.

Call Just Before Dawn the thinking man’s slasher movie. Or rather don’t because it kind of makes you sound like an asshole. Hell I’m sorry I wrote that. My bad.

But affected demeaning of an entire sub genre aside, Just Before Dawn there’s no hiding the fact that Just Before Dawn is “smarter then the average slasher.” A tense moody, well made and shot piece of work that makes real creative and creepy use out of its rural surroundings rather then just having it act as the default horror setting the way so many lazier horror films do.

The film takes a tried and true genre plot. City folk go into the mountain, meet irate hillbillies, hijinks ensue. But the film unlikely finds new things to do with it. In one of the film’s cleverest twists the opening victims of the movie are a pair of Sons Of The South who look and act like the usual perpetrators in a “Good Ole Boys Run Amuck” Slasher. And further more the characters, though somewhat arrogant, are likable and developed beyond (granted perhaps not far beyond) fodder.

Like I said, the woods are suitably creepy and much is made out of their cathedral space. The horror sequences are also a notch above, with much more thought put into their staging beyond how best to frame the next gore shot. The film is actually quite low on violence, and it’s most affective (and justly famous) shot, were we watch as one of the stalkers, far in the background, slips unnoticed into the swimming hole containing our cast, holds none.

The film does have a few flaws, George Kennedy’s always nice to see, but he’s literally playing a walking deus ex machina. The film is well directed by Jeff Lieberman. Responsible for the infamous cult films Squirm and Blue Sunshine. And also the script for The Never Ending Story III. But lets not hold that too harshly against him.

But if there’s one thing that really pushed me over the edge into loving Just Before Dawn It’s that the Gender Politics at the core managed to go beyond being merely not embarrassing as they usually are with a slasher movie, and graduated to being actually pretty righteous.

Gender is a tricky thing to handle in genre fiction. I recently got into a bit of an argument with a reader over Wrong Turn. Particularly about whether Dushku’s role in Wrong Turn qualified as a strong female one. It’s a role that claimed to be empowering, and yet featured her tied to the bed being sexually molested by mountain men waiting for someone else to save her for a large portion of her screen time. Just Before Dawn serves as a potent counterpoint to say the least. You want a strong female protaginist? How about one who stays calm and cool while her male counter part turns to jello (he ends the film sobbing and literally hugging her knees) and when the big bad slåsher comes back for one last scare SHE SHOVES HER FIST DOWN THE MOTHER FUCKERS THROAT UNTIL HE CHOKES ON IT!!! Now that’s badass.

So what you’ve got here is a well shot, well made, well acted film, which manages to deliver the genre goods in spades. Like I said “The Thinking Man’s Slasher Film” might sound pompous. Perhaps the “Guilt Free Slasher Film” would be a bit better.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sonorous Tone Of My Voice

So I've been teasing this for awhile now but my buddies on "On The Stick" were nice enough to invite me onto my podcast.

So you can now all listen to the sonorous tone of my voice!!! It'll be the scariest thing you hear all Halloween Run Away in Horror.

Thanks to Joe, Eric and all the rest for having me on.

31 Days Of Horror Day 28: The Unseen 48: The Kingdom

(Note this pertains only to the first season of The Kingdom)

Why’d I Buy It?: Picked It Up at the Hollywood Video is burning down sale.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Let me put this as delicately as I can. Lars Von Trier is considered to be one of the most important cinematic voices working today. And I more or less think he’s full of shit. (Mostly)

My problem with Von Trier, is simply I have not seen a single frame of a single one of his films in which I did not believe that he was just fucking with me. I may think that Michael Haneke makes glorified Skinner Boxes instead of films, but I believe he at least is upfront about the terms of his experimentation.

Von Trier on the other hand never makes films that are about what they are about. Dogville isn’t really about American hypocracy. It’s about Von Trier getting to gang rape one of the most famous women in the world. Dancer In The Dark is about Von Trier getting to torment another, not the story at hand. Some find the closing shots of Breaking The Waves to be among the most transcendant in cinema. I see it as little more then a giant floating middle finger pointed right at the audience.

Whether this failure is Von Trier’s as a director or mine as a viewer, I’ll leave as an open question. The point is I get very little to nil out of Von Trier’s films and feel I could live a full and happy life without ever seeing another one. So I don’t exactly go out of my way to watch them. Particularly when my first exposure to the material is the well meaning, ahead of its time, and completely disastrous Kingdom Hospital. A show that featured a wise cracking Anteater who was also the lord of the dead.

How Was It?:

Grr… It was actually pretty good.

Yes, though I can’t say it’s changed my opinion towards Von Trier as a whole, there’s no denying that The Kingdom is a seriously creepy, seriously strange, and seriously affective piece of horror filmmaking.

With it’s eccentric cast, bizarre subplots, and absurd perpendicular sense of humor, The Kingdom resembles Twin Peaks more then the full on horror film I expected.

Many of Von Trier’s best scenes involve nothing supernatural at all. Like the part in episode one where the Head of the hospital, joining a secret society, is solemnly made to swear to be an enemy of the occult and a servant of reason, before participating in a ritual so arcane, so sublimely silly, that it almost beggars description.

It gets as much mileage from subplots involving office politics (Operation Morning Air) severed heads and diseased livers, as it does from the ghost ambulance that pulls up to it’s door’s every night.

Some of the old Von Trier Bullshit does creep up. Particularly in a down syndrome greek chorus/kitchen staff, who are literally magic and also omniscient. Luckily these are cases are few and far between.

Of course when The Kingdom does want to scare you, it comes prepared. And it’s that quality, the ability to put away his subplots and sick games, and face his subject head on, if only for a few scenes, that I find so lacking in the rest of his work. And that makes The Kingdom such an unforgettable ride.

That Von Trier. He ever finds something that engages him, he might make one heck of a film someday.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 27: The Unseen #47: The Fifth Cord

Why’d I Buy It?: Given to me during the closing days of the great Insomniac.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: No real reason. I decided to give The Fifth Cord a shot because even if Hugo Stiglitz ain’t doing it this year, “There’s always room for Giallo!” (Har Har). I don’t really know. I’d always heard that The Fifth Cord was kind of a seminal Giallo film. Containing all the elements of the genre….

How Was It?: True to form does assemble most of the things that you think of when you think of Giallo. Black gloves, eurosleaze, intricate plots which hinge on odd gimmicky details (in this case The Zodiac), brutal murders, sex, stylistic excess, creepy women of a certain age, Franco Nero.

Unfortunately the only genre typical element it leaves out of the mix is the fun.

I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed with The Fifth Cord. Call it over build up, but I expected a lot from the film. Instead I found the murderous set pieces underwhelming, the cast almost perversely unlikable and unengaging and the mystery sailing beyond merely incomprehensible, as in most (bad) gialli, and instead falling into the giddy reaches of flat out apathetic gibberish. With an ending guaranteed to make you go “Wah?”

The story follows Nero, as a drunken newspaper writer assigned to cover a string of brutal murders across the city. Things quickly go pear shaped when it turns out that all the victims where at a party Nero attended earlier. And in true Gialli fashion he’s being set up for the kill.

Franco Nero who is normally a guaranteed great time at the movies, gives the most tremendously charisma free performance I’ve ever seen him give. Playing an alcoholic, woman beating, asshole. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting a dark anti hero at the center of your film but the movie expects us to view him as unabashedly heroic. He stumbles through the film in a stupor like an Italian Tommy Wiseau.

The film looks beautiful, which is kind of what tends to happen when you have Vittorio Storaro shooting your film. (Also in the film's plus column a score by Ennio Morricone. The film has nothing if not a top notch crew)

But even then much celebrated decadent look of the picture proves to be a hindrance at times; no real life creeps into the movie even when it’s at its most vicious. It’s hard to be that upset when viewing a murder when instead of thinking something along the lines of “Oh no they’re dying.” All you can think of is how relentlessly formal the shot you’re looking at is. (Truth in criticism there is one spectacular suspense piece shot almost entirely from floor level that does deserve mad props).

But Gialli depends on more then exotic euro sleaze. There’s a certain fleetness, both in style and narrative that makes a fan of the subgenre forgive the expected occasional blasts of nonsensical incomprehensibility. And at the end of the day The Fifth Cord just doesn’t have that, nor the rooting interest in the cast that the genre thrives on.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lucky Devil

My Buddies over at On The Stick have run a fantastic Twilight Zone tribute throughout October.

The second of my two pieces dropped today, So check out my take on Printer's Devil Here. Make sure you check out the backlog while you're over there, and stay tuned for one last TTDS On The Stick combo before the month is out.

31 Days Of Horror Day 26: The Unseen #46: Don't Look Now

Why’d I Buy It?: Picked it up at the Hollywood Video IS BURNING DOWN!!! Sale.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I know… FUCK I KNOW!!! (Pt. 3). In a bit more of a serious vein, I’m not the world’s biggest Nicholas Roeg fan. I doubt I would even place. I mean I love The Witches, and in general Roeg is fine, but I’ve always felt that he’s a director very much of his time and place. Take The Man Who Fell To Earth; David Bowie being hassled by the Olde Timey German Farmer only he can see and he and mate fucking in a vat of oatmeal, might have seemed mind blowing and profound back in the seventies. Now it just seems kind of silly. Particularly when compared to Walter Tevis’s sensitive novel. (In all fairness I haven’t seen Performance and Walkabout).

How Was It?: A moving bracingly human horror story. But you already knew that.

It would take only the faintest of nudges to make Don’t Look Now not a horror movie at all. Though it undeniably becomes one in the final ten minutes, and it contains both psychic interludes and a tense disaster on a scaffold. The core of the movie; a grieving couple simultaneously drawing together and tearing each other apart in a foreign city in the wake of their daughter’s death. Their tense relationship exacerbated by the wife’s new found slightly daffy spiritualism brought on by an encounter with a psychic and her husband’s unrelenting despair. Sutherland at first tries to encourage his wife's new found serenity, but it's obvious that it's eating at him. In one of the film's best written scenes he spits out "It's like she's become her whole self." with unmistakable bitterness.

This conflict would be at home in any respectable drawing room drama. Think Ordinary People written by John Updike, into which a homicidal dwarf keeps intruding.

Though perhaps I’ve said too much..,

But in spite of its sensitivity and self conscious artistry, Don’t Look Now remains a vicious horror movie. And it’s because of its unlikely literary streak, not in spite of it. Ultimately, Don’t Look Now is the story of a man who literally chases his grief until it kills him. And if that’s not a horror story then brother I don’t know what is.

The film doesn’t deal in scares, it deals in dread.

Not enough can be said about Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie’s performances, which anchor the movie in a deep and painful emotional bedrock even whenever the film threatens to tip into outlandish.

Coupled with Roeg’s masterful compositions and Anthony Richmond’s gothic cinematography (Roeg did some of the uncredited handy work himself here) of a dark and malevolent utterly haunted Venice, the film creates a disturbing portrait of haunted minds stretched to their breaking point. It’s true that not much happens in the traditional hack and slash sense in Don’t Look Now, but the palpable sense of menace the film provides is far more distressing. Perhaps the key is that Roeg never indulges in the usual genre hysterics. The murders that permeate the film are never displayed in long loving giallo set pieces, but instead act as a mournful backdrop to the film. Seen almost exclusively in aftermath. Like the fact that we spot the small figure in red far more times then Sutherland does, it just underlines that his doom is already written.

The unease permeates every level of the film. Take the scene where Sutherland attempts to describe his situation to a wormy police inspector. I doubt anyone can make it through the scene without squirming. But why? There’s none of the usual Hitchcockian reasons. There’s no immediate danger to the protagonist. He’s not under suspicion, there’s no real consequence to his actions. And yet there is a horrid sense of unease to ever frame of the sequence.

And in the nigh indescribable final time shredding montage Roeg’s technique pays off in spades. With a jolting, unrelenting blast of pure cinema. It’s a haunting film. In all senses of the word.

Monday, October 25, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 25: The Unseen #45: Phantasm

Why’d I Buy It?: Well it’s fucking Phantasm isn’t it?

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I know… I KNOW (Pt.2)

How Was It?: Well it was fucking Phantasm wasn’t it?

Phantasm is a pretty great, thoroughly strange little film. The only horror film that bases itself off of the fear of Extra Dimensional slavers who moonlight as undertakers who appear in your dreams. And also their Jawa slaves. That I know of anyway.

It tells the story of a pair of siblings living together after their parents death. Things are interrupted when one of the older brothers friends dies. This second brush with mortality as well as an encounter with a plucky indie rock fan with a terminal illness leads him to complicate his life before ultimately learning to love his brother and comes to terms with-. Oh wait, no, that’s every indie movie since The Garden State. In this one a Tall mortician turns the the deceased friend into a dwarf and sells him to another dimension for slave lavor. The tall mortician also likes throwing deadly sapient silver balls at people.

This is an odd little movie folks.

With it’s long take sequences played past the logical breaking point, cheery music interludes, and occasional bracing blasts of surrealty, Phantasm resembles nothing so much as a splatter punk film made by Richard Linklater (I mean check the scene of Reggie and the elder brother just hanging out on the porch playing music). It’s dreamlike, bordering on lackadaisical.

This paired with the same strange “Hard R Kid’s Film” Feel of the People Under The Stars, makes this feel like the sort of movie one would conceive if one had a giant doobie sticking out of one’s mouth.

I was prepared for how crazy Phantasm would get, but it’s unabashed indieness was a nice surprise. The film was shot over the course of two years by an extremely game cast. And in every frame it is obvious that it is a labor of love. It has that handmade feeling, akin to Evil Dead and the better films of Charles B. Pierce that make the film really endearing. I mean, for all the gore, bodies drained of blood, and extra dimensional beings who bleed yellow goo Phantasm is a strangely mellow movie.

The cast does a fine job. The most famous being Reggie, the ice cream man/demon slayer. I love that Reggie isn’t made into some Ash like super warrior. But instead plays the role of as a kind of dim bulb townie really good at taking things in stride. Whether they be Evil Insects who sprout out of severed fingers and survive a garbage disposaling, or Tall Undead Necromancers who Scream “BOOOOOOOOYYYYY!!!!!”

Don Coscarelli shoots with his trademark mix of warped imagination, wit, style deadpan charm and matter of fact plotting. If the film proves anything, it’s that he’s the perfect man to bring the blue collar horror madness of John Dies At The End to the big screen.

While I can’t say that it has become an all time favorite. Phantasm is a thoroughly winning little film. Charming in just about every way.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

31 Days Of Horror Day 24: The Unseen #44: The Hitcher

Why’d I Buy It: Picked it up dirt cheap at one of those post Halloween Rite Aid sales.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Fuck... I know… I KNOOOOOWWWW….

How Was It?: Damn good. But you already knew that because you watched the movie a long ass time ago. Good for you.

The American Southwest is a deeply creepy place. Sure the Pacific Northwest may be the serial killer capital of the world, and the South is the cinematic capital of vicious cannibalistic hillbillies. But I’d rather spend time in either of those places, then alone in the Southwest. It’s all open, the light and space gets to your head. There’s an isolation there unlike any I’ve ever experienced. You drive for miles and miles without seeing anyone. Until some cranked out trucker nearly runs you off the road as he does a hundred in his semi on three minutes of sleep trying to make Deluth before nightfall. You make it to a town and find a convenience store, a church, a motel, and one construction site taped off flags flapping in the wind, obviously untouched for years. A strong wind would seem to be able to blow away nearly any town on the map.

Even the tourist spots are creepy. The cliff cities, carved in solid rock their inhabitants long gone. Making you aware of the generations and generations of those who came before you. If any place in America can be said to be truly haunted, it’s the American Southwest.

Which is why it’s always surprised me that so damn few horror films have been set there (Discounting Texas which I for one always consider as part of The South). There’s The Hill’s Have Eyes, Near Dark (oh hey Eric Red) and well that’s about it…

The Hitcher follows C. Thomas “Ponyboy” Howell whose transporting a car to California, when he picks up Rutger Hauer, always a bad idea. Hauer soon informs Howell that the last person who picked him up couldn’t have gotten far as Hauer took the trouble to cut off his legs. And arms. And head.

Things move about as you would expect from there. With Hauer cutting a swatch of carnage across the southwest with no greater scheme then driving Howell to the brink of madness and/or generally fucking up his day.

The key to the whole thing is Rutger Hauer. Who plays the role of the killer as nonchalant to the point of disinterested. When he’s ramming Howell off the road or murdering people he doesn’t do it with the cackling maniacal glee of the normal movie killer, but with the dedicated thoroughness of a committed hobbyist. Even at his most desperate his emotional register never rises above “Slightly peeved” (Not to mention he makes a black duster look goooood. Reason 127 I’m really excited about him in Hobo With A Shotgun.

Murder and Mayhem isn’t something to get excited about, just what he does to unwind. Some people trim their lawn, Ryder leaves fingers in plates of French fries.

The movie does have its problems, while Howell is fine as a scared kid over his head, he’s less convincing as a hardened badass. And though the film is famous for being one of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s first, I found her way over the top, and saddled with a bizarre regionless accent. More problematic is the way the film shifts into an action film in it’s last half. It’s all well done, but after such an intense first half it’s tough to see the movie dissapate it’s tension with helicopter’s blowing up and shotgun battles.

Still over all The Hitcher deserves its status as a minor genre classic.

Now say it with me. I want to die.

31 Days Of Horror: Day 23: The Unseen #43: Ghost Of Frankenstein

Why’d I Buy It?: Came in the Universal Frankenstein Pack I purchased (AKA, the good thing that came out of Van Helsing)

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I’ve always thought of Ghost Of Frankenstein as kind of a non entity. As I was loading the disc in the player I tried to think of a single thing I’d heard about it, good or bad, ever, and was buffaloed to realize I really hadn’t heard anything.

When a band of fans as nutty, passionate, and chatty as Universal Monster Fans are mum on a movie you know that’s a bad sign.

How Was It?: Not bad. But not good. Everything about the film from it’s runtime on down belies its lack of ambition.

The Ghost Of Frankenstein opens with a bunch of peasants murming darkly, occasionally raising their voices in a communal shout of anger and fear. As peasants in a Universal Monster Movie are want to do. Currently they’re haranguing the mayor, telling him to destroy the last vestiges of Frankenstein’s Castle thanks to incessant flute music and/or the possibility of curses, presenting their argument with cool logical statements like “IT’S EVIL!!!” and “YGOR DOESN’T DIE THAT EASILY.” After blowing the shit out of Frankenstein’s Castle, they predictably release the monster from his sulfury tomb. Minus his Fur Pimp Coat.

Way To Go Guys.

The rest of the film follows Lugosi as he tracks down the son of Frankenstein to help do… something to the monster, after he is struck by lightning and made more powerful. Which really doesn’t make even the faintest bit of internal logic as Frankenstein got knocked out by lightning in the last film. And… you know what, I just don’t have the heart to pick apart the logical inconsistencies of The Universal Horror universe at the moment. That way lies madness. So please forgive me for abstaining.

“But wait” I hear you say er somehow, wasn’t the son of Frankenstein featured somewhat apathetically in Son Of Frankenstein? Well yes but this is the other son of Frankenstein that Ygor seeks. And he runs a healthcare spa! No word if he is infact a brother from another mother.

Ygor blackmails Frankenstein into curing the monster (OF WHAT???). And things proceed just about how you would expect them to.

I’ve never been a huge Lon Chaney Jr. fan (Outside of The Wolfman natch), and never did he appear as out of his depth as when he was playing Frankenstein's Monster. Reducing it to the stiff armed caricature that so often served as a parody of Karloff’s. And which Karloff himself so studiously avoided. Plus his Monster always looks chubby. There I said it. I don’t know why that bothers me so, but it does. There’s no way around that.

Lugosi is fine, but his Ygor has been toned down both physically and emotionally. Lugosi’s turn; sinister, pitful and truly frightening, made Son Of Frankenstein. It was arguably the best performance of his career, and even arguably the best to appear in the Universal Movies period. And though his performance is entertaining, in Ghost, it’s not that. And he takes a reeeeeeeeeaaaaaallly weird turn around the forty minute mark that the movie never recovers from.

In fact the whole movie kind of takes a dive around that point. Everyone (the monster included) inexplicably turns into kind of a dick. And the viewer’s investment in drops precipitously.

This is not a Universal film of the first Water. But while no one is going to confuse Ghost Of Frankenstein with the true masterpieces of Whale, Browning, and Freund; it’s a tough movie to get mad at. While I won’t be in a hurry to revisit it again. It is a solid slice of B-Movie fun.

And what would an October be without a little Universal Horror?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Slight Delay

Whooooo! It's your old pal Count Floyd here. I tell you kids I had a MONSTER of a day. Truly Scarifying...

I'll stop now.

But seriously, I worked a twelve hour day yesterday and thought it was so much fun that I'd do it again today. So the column will be going up a little very late today. But it will be up today. Sometime. Hopefully. I promise.

Until then amuse yourself with these!

Friday, October 22, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 22: The Unseen #42: The Premature Burial

Why’d I Buy It?: Came with the Roger Corman Boxset I purchased.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: It’s a Corman Poe picture that doesn’t star Vincent Price. Which is like Bruce Springsteen without the E Street Band. Yes The Ghost Of Tom Joad is a very nice album, but no one’s is ever going to confuse it with Darkness On The Edge Of Town or Tunnel Of Love.

How Was It?: Well, better then I expected in segments, and worse in others.

The story as you might have surmised from the title, follows Ray Milland playing a man with a morbid fear of being buried alive. The film is called The Premature Burial, no points for guessing what happens.

I don’t think anyone would argue terribly strenuously, if I said that this is the least of Corman’s Poe Films. It lacks both the frenzied lurid intensity, hallucinogenic color saturated style and strange unearthly beauty of The House Of Usher, Tomb Of Ligeia, and The Masque Of The Red Death. Only Milland’s perfunctory “Drawings O’ Satan” really even wave in this direction.

Furthermore, Milland, though a fine actor in his own right just doesn’t quite hit that same wavelength of melodrama without camp that Price maintained throughout The Poe films.

Worse, the film is narratively disjointed, even for a Corman film. Though all of the Poe Picutures had to leap through all sorts of odd narrative hoops in order to drag their twenty to thirty page source materials into feature length. The Premature Burial takes this to the extreme.

It’s understandable, unlike the other Poe storys which at least give small opportunity to expansion, there’s really not much to deal with in original The Premature Burial. A fellow is buried, it’s a touch premature, he deals with the consequences of this. Oh hey it turns out he was actually on a ship, and just randomly lost his shit. Have fun turning that into 90 minutes, with a poster to bring in the drive in crowd.

So yeah, there’s a whole bunch of filler. Milland builds an elaborate premature burial proof tomb, just so he can destroy it in the subsequent scene. Dark family secrets are disclosed just so they can be forgotten. Long elaborate hallucinogenic nightmare scenes take place just so the film can get that much closer to feature length. Etc. Etc.

This unpredictable plotting ends up being the film’s secret weapon when (minor spoilers) the film, apropos to nothing suddenly morphs into “Raymond Milland’s Badass Revenge” (AKA Ray Milland Brings The Pain) in its last fifteen minutes. Dishing out some a Bride level of hurting bombs to all how have injured and annoyed him over the course of the runtime.

That’s fucking badass.

The Premature Burial belongs to that odd class of movies, that I can’t recommend but would never dissuade anyone from seeing. While there’s a lot that doesn’t work, there’s a lot that does, including the burial itself and the afore mentioned final fifteen minutes. It probably works best when viewed as a variation on Corman’s Poe films, which in all fairness is exactly what it is and will probably play best with foreknowledge of said same.

It doesn’t work in the usual ways, but it works in some very unusual ones.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 21: The Unseen #40-41: Lisa And The Devil/House Of Exorcism

(For those new(ish) to Things That Don't Suck The Unseen is a column where I examine the horrors of The DVD's that have made it into my collection without being viewed ooooooohhhhh!!!

In all seriousness, I'm guilty as anyone, when it comes to being a know it all on Titles viewed. So It's nice having a column all about reinforning the idea that I always have more to learn. So for the next week, it's going to be all Unseen All The Time. In order to give the red headed stepchild of a column a chance to catch up against my shameful neglect of it.

I'll just go ahead and say this now, there are going to be some bonafide classics coming up over the next week that I am flat out embarrassed to admit I haven't seen. But that's always part of the fun of being a cinephile isn't it?)

Why’d I Buy It?: Came In The Mario Bava Boxset I purchased.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Didn’t make the first the cut for my first Bava binge. Just never quite got around to it. Also I have a weird pet peeve about films that have two definitive cuts. And while it’s obvious that Lisa And The Devil is the preferred cut, just because House Of Exorcism is a bad Mario Bava movie doesn’t change that fact that it’s still a Mario Bava movie.

How Was It?: Depends which version we’re talking about. Of course.

Lisa And The Devil is as rumored, a latter day masterpiece, sumptuously styled, hallucinogenicly plotted, and more then a little personal. House Of Exorcism is on the other hand a borderline nonsensical Friedkin rip off so shameless that it makes Beyond The Door look like a piece of great artistic integrity.

Both film’s follow Lisa, an American Tourist who undergoes a profound spiritual crisis after encountering Telly Savalas, first in mural;

then in physical form.

Now Savalas has been known to cause spiritual crisis’s in many situations and sexual crisis’s even more.

(I mean how could you not?)

But in this case, things are made even more acute, by the fact that Telly is the Devil. The Lord Of Lies enjoys carrying around mannequins and lemon suckers, and also tormenting the souls of those that is damned.

Sevelas does this by having Lisa and a series of strangers undergo an ennui soaked spiritual fugue/rash of giallo killings, in an old manor in Lisa And The Devil. And by having her put on pancake makeup and swear at a Priest like a fifth grader who has just learned how in House. This footage was shot when the producers looked at Lisa And Devil and suddenly realized "Oh shit. We funded an art movie." followed by "We better put some exorcism in our Satan movie." Said footage was then shoved the cheap exorcism scenes in under the flimsiest of pretenses. Believe it or not, Lisa And The Devil is the more effective of the two.

What surprised me about Lisa And The Devil wasn’t how strange and arty it was. I had been well prepared for that. No what surprised me was how unadulteratedly lurid and vaguely trashy so much of it was. From a piece of vehicular homicide so gleefully perpetrated and filmed that I was actually taken aback. To one which is almost matched in delight with a candlestick bludgeoning late in the game.

And if Lisa’s ambitions and opaque surrealism sometimes cross the line into self parody, there are just as many where the dream logic tone just works. Most notably in the film’s climax upon a Ghost Airplane, that manages to be well and truly freaky.

Sevalas makes a game Old Scratch and Bava obviously put a lot into it. House Of Exorcism is just the same but less so. Aside from the tacked on Friedkin impersonation, the remainder of the film is just a strangely reedited chateau encounter. A re edit which strips away the dream logic and leaves in its place, absolutely no logic.

House Of The Exorcism may not make any less narrative sense then Lisa And The Devil. But it does lack that lunatic gleam of conviction to carry it through.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 20: Nosferatu (1979)

Decade’s before Gus Van Sant tried his cheeky little post modern expiriment with Psycho, Werner Herzog did much the same thing remaking FW Murnau’s Nosferatu on the same locations.

In all fairness unlike Van Sant Herzog was never attempting a shot by shot remake, he makes some significant changes, both to the story and in the style. He wanted to recapture the feeling of decay and menace so paltable in the original. A laughable idea from anyone else, from Herzog another entry in his “just crazy enough to work” file.

Nosferatu does make a tempting target. It is after all one of the finest movies ever made, and has never dipped into the realm of camp. It’s power enough to make it one of the few silent movies that is remembered by “civilians.” But Murnau and Herzog were such opposites as directors.

Murnau was the master of artifice, the one of the first to realize that a studio was more then just a convenient place to shoot but a place that could manipulated until it was no longer something like reality, but something more so. The finest user of the crane this side of Scorsese. The Master of the close up.

If Murnau composed in close up even in his long shots, then Herzog is the master of the level thousand yard stare, even when his camera is six inches from his subjects face. If Murnau’s style depended on the studio’s flexibleness, Herzog’s depends on his subjects and settings inflexibleness, the “voodoo of location.” Murnau figured out what artifice is for; Herzog desperately seeks ecstatic truth, even when he’s just flat out making shit up.

It’s an odd mix that produces some interesting frisson.

Though the story is mostly the same in the broad strokes some interesting changes have been wrought both by Herzog and just the advancement of film itself. Color and sound change the film more then I would expect it to. Particularly in our attitudes towards the count (Klaus Kinski in the most subdued performance he ever gave for Herzog. Yep an undead demonic creature whose lived for centuries really brought out the subtle in Kinski). Max Shrek’s count was so buried beneath layers of makeup so thoroughly inhuman, that it’s simple just to look at him and think “Monster.” That’s why hearing him speak, in precise Teutonic tones, is such a shock. Speech is a humanizer in a way intertitles aren’t, and Kinski’s Orlock instantly becomes more decrepit, pathetic and sad than simply monsterous.

Not that he’s not frightening, he’s just an entirely different kind of frightening.

As always in Herzog, the imagery is astounding. The endless stream of pallbearers bearing pine coffins that cross against our heroine, the opening montage of mummies, the plague ship with its blood red sales heavy in the water, the 11,000 rats (all painted grey because Herzog could only find white mice) who stream through the streets.

Nosferatu does have a few problems. The movie is well, let’s just say a little bit slow. Herzog took the movie from 91 minutes (in it’s most complete prints) and extended it to 110. Most of that extra time is taken up with people wandering around staring at things. An image that if do not have an affinity for you will soon find maddening. It’s a film that is dependant, to say the least, on you synchronizing with its wave length. Also, though most of the changes that Herzog makes to the text work for his own purpose, the strange “Gotcha” ending is not one of them.

Unlike its ancestor Nosferatu may not be a perfect film, but like its predecessor, it is a haunting one.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 Horror Great Horror Reads Not Written By Stephen King

Despite The Vitagraph American’s rather strong warning against list based posts. I’ve decided to brave the wrath of Cole and give a quick list of five horror books that October is the perfect time for. Now I’m off to take a shower…. AAAAHHHH!!!!

“So,” I thought, reading the back of the book I’d picked up from a random table of Halloween picks at the bookstore “A story about a lovelorn dog catcher who falls in love with female werewolf about to break from her pack. There’s another novel I’ll read when they invent the eight day week.”

And I ALMOST put it down, but cracked it open, hoping perhaps to find some chuckle worthy sub Stephanie Meyer’s writing within, despite the Nick Hornby blurb on the front.

“Well huh, that’s funny it’s not a novel at all. It’s apparently a 300 page epic poem… Well that was unexpected. Just a few stanzas…” But by then I was as helpless as one of the pack’s victim’s once they have their jaws on their throat.

I can pretty much guarantee that Sharp Teeth is unlike just about anything you’ve ever read. Unless of course you regularly read books composed long form free verse poetry about weredogs that are one part gang warfare epic, one part enticing mystery, one part surprisingly effective soap opera, one part surprisingly(er) effective love story, and one part seriously balls out brutal horror story.

Didn’t think so.

If you’re looking for a quick bloody read this October, I don’t believe you can do better.

As has been stated rather conclusively, I am more or less totally in the tank for Joe Hill. The question then is what to recommend. The moving combination of The Haunting and The Royal Tenenbaums that makes Locke And Key one of the best things going on in comics right now? What about the darkly funny Horns. Or 20th Century Ghosts, which showcases the full range of Hill’s talent from the Juggernaut “Best New Horror” to the wistful “Pop Art” and the disturbing Lynchian “Masks” Not to mention the titular story one of the most loving tributes to cinema I’ve ever seen in print.

But there’s still no better place to start from then Heart Shaped Box. Which as balls out a ghost story as has ever been written.

Hill’s dark fertile imagination gives Box it’s haunting power. But it is the unexpected story of a man coming late in life to his better nature, that gives it its heft.

Read one Hill and I can guarantee you’ll be hooked for life.

Walking Dead is of course the graphic novel zombie epic soon to be transformed into a TV series on AMC.

In the word’s of Henry Jones Senior, Most zombie movies “leave just when they were getting interesting.” With the last vestiges of human civilization overrun by the zombie hordes.

Walking Dead uses that as it’s starting point. And explores how society rebuilds itself. Or doesn’t. The zombies, which are basically ringers anyway, aren't nearly as scary as the answer's Kirkman comes up with. But the real subversive thing about Kirkman's work isn't the fact that he shows humans doing horrible things in the wake of societal breakdown, it's the fact that he posits that societal breakdown itself as a boon.

The world being overrun with zombie hordes portrayed almost as a Thoreau like awakening of the human spirit rather then a tragedy. The Walking Dead is at its core a story of the anesthetic wearing off.

Before Seth Grahmn Smith kick started the most annoying meme of all time with the still funny despite its predecessors, Pride Prejudice and Zombies and then proved he was more then a one gimmick man with Doris Kearnes Goodwin (That still blows my mind) approved Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, he penned this little ditty. Which provides advice for surviving everything from encountering Satan (hard) to surviving a night of babysitting (harder).

Fleet and “Laugh out loud so hard you disturb the strangers on the bus” funny Smith’s book is a thorough deconstruction of horror tropes with a thorough understanding and an even thorougher affection for the genre. This belongs on the shelf of every horror aficionado in the country.

If I had to encapsulate it in an annoying horror blurb (which I am) I’d say it’s like Shaun Of The Dead, if our heroes were trapped not in a Romero film but in a Raimi one.

I would go on. But why should I when "Dave Wong" himself does such a better job telling you why you should buy his book.

Every once in a while you run into a porn video or website that you can't, in good conscience, recommend to your friends because it's simply too erotic. The actress's boobs were too perfect, the scenario too plausible, your erection too firm--almost to the level of exquisite pain.

This is the situation I find myself in with the horrortacular, John Dies at the End. A friend will say, "Hey, David, I see you have a copy of John Dies at the End. I like horror, and it's getting awesome reviews. Should I run down to Borders and... Jesus, what is that in your pants?"

What am I to say? Sure, my friend likes horror, but he "likes" beer, too. That doesn't mean he would enjoy being trapped inside a half million-gallon vat at the Anheuser-Busch brewery, forced to drink his way out or die trying. And he would like it even less if, instead of beer, the vat was full of horror.

John Dies at the End is like that, it's the porno you hesitate to recommend. My answer to such friends is always the same: "Are you sure you know what you're getting into? Because imagine an all-you-can-eat buffet. Only instead of food, it's crack cocaine. And instead of crack cocaine, it's horror. And the object in my pants? It is but my erection--an erection I've had ever since I purchased my copy of John Dies at the End... THREE WEEKS AGO. So sure, go right ahead and buy a copy if you dare. Just know that you won't be able to give out any hugs to family members at Thanksgiving."

And if that wasn’t enough. Here's some text from the actual book…

We kicked through the slithering things and stomped up after the dog, just as the stairwell door banged shut on its own. I reached for the knob.

At the same moment it began to melt and transform, turning pink and finally taking the shape of a flaccid penis. It flopped softly against the door, like a man was cramming it through the knob hole from the other side.

I turned back to John and said, "That door cannot be opened."

I believe the word you're looking for is "Add To Cart"

31 Days Of Horror: Day 19: Survival Of The Dead

Diary Of The Dead hurt me in a way that very few movies ever had. It broke my heart, by punching it through my testicles. Diary was a film that truly made me hate a George Romero film, which up until that point was something I was blissfully unaware I could do.

Based on the reviews I’d read, including those from critics who’d given Diary a pass, I figured Survival would be even worse. Reviews were ranging from deeply disappointing all the way to apoplectic.

Well, call it low expectations, call it lowered standards, I actually kind of enjoyed Survival Of The Dead. It’s not great, and it may be the first Romero Zombie movie to be “just” a zombie movie and it’s way smaller in ambition and scale then any of the preceding zombie movies.. But it manages not to be the affront to all that is good and holy that Diary was.

The horror of Survival is Nicotine, National Guard captain last scene marauding the documentary crew of the loathsome Diary. Hearing rumor of a safe haven of an island through the intertubes. Nicotine and his two dimensional crew make their way to a land where for reasons that perhaps should stay locked in the depths of Romero’s imagination, everyone is reenacting Darby O’ Gill And The Little People. Seriously, It feels at any given time these folks might burst out with a round of “My Dear And Darling One”.

Nicotine and his crew have been unwittingly dragged into an improtu revolution, stemming from a battle between two rival families. One who wants to keep the zombies “alive” until a cure can be found, and the other who wants to “execute every last one of the fuckers.” Among the movies good qualities is that it takes its dear sweet time in telling us which one is supposed to be the bastard.

Nicotine is, well how should I put this... Not the most fascinating protagonist Romero has ever had. He's not bad. And Romero and the actor kind of do what they can with him, but the movie loses focus.

Along with the ambiguity, there are a few good beats, some striking imagry and tense scenes. Including a surprisingly expensive looking showdown on a dock, that has to be one of the best set pieces that Romero has ever filmed (“The road is mined!”)

And though less personal, Survival still includes plenty of Romero touches, including a sequence where Nicotine and his crew come across a posse of rednecks who torture zombies in a manner that Romero has wanted to try since his original draft of Day Of The Dead.

Aside from the incredibly incongruous Irish men inhabiting the island, one must also deal with the CGI gore and community theater level acting.

But the real problem is that while Night, Dawn, Day, Land, and yes even Diary, felt like big slabs of societal deconstruction that Romero simply had to make, Survival just feels like a cool idea he wanted to try out. And the lack of intensity shows. The other Dead films are novels burning with things to prove, this is a novella done for the hell of it.

It’s the textbook example of a B- film. It does just enough, and nothing more

Monday, October 18, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 18: Wrong Turn 2

My main problem with Hatchet (of many) was while the tagline bragged about being “old school American horror” precious little that actually felt like, well “Old School American Horror.”

Instead, Hatchet felt like some very new school horseshit. With it’s mountain dew pacing, non stop barrage of mythology, boobs, and way OTT gore, it felt much more like your sugar addled friend in Jr. High relating a slasher movie to you the night after he snuck a peek on HBO. It had about as much in common with the slow burn punctuated by incredible lapses in taste style that make up the pacing of actual eighties slasher film as it did with The Russian Ballet.

Wrong Turn 2 On the other hand does feel like Old School American Horror. It’s not perfect, there’s a long dead zone after the first kill, and are long stretches that assume an investment with the plot and character that simply doesn’t exist. And it serves up tasteless scenes with more vigor then John Waters. Does it include a fucked up Dinner Scene ripping off The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? What do you think?

But if those aren’t hallmarks of the old school slasher experience then I don’t know what is. Its detrements all work as boons. By paradoxically, by being a much more boring film than Hatchet, Wrong Turn 2 becomes a much more entertaining one.

Henry Rollin’s plays a retired Army Colonel who hosts a reality show. Which is a little like having Noam Chomsky play Michael Steele in a biopic. Still it doesn’t matter, as Henry Rollins is intrinsically awesome. And him doing his best impression of Arnie in Predator as he hunt's inbred mutant hillbillies is more so.

Rollins is leading a crew of spoiled twenty some things into the woods, to compete on the “ultimate survivor” (geddit?). Unfortunately as they have picked the one woods in Virginia that is also the territory of cannibalistic super mutants (presumably) and said cannibalistic super mutants don’t find location scouts tasty, the cast finds itself splattered all over the woods.

(Your reaction is the correct one)

What follows is surprisingly pretty good. Taking the time to include little grace notes that I forgot I missed in horror (No I didn’t) like having at least three characters other then Rollins who weren’t intentionally designed to be hateful fodder. A plot twist I didn't see coming. It contains expositional and character building scenes, that manage to not be even more grim and joyless then the kills. It even includes one scene, set during a “birthing” that breaks through the genial air of nostalgia to approach something like real fright.

The film mostly eschew’s the dread CGI gore shot, well except for the case of an egregiously bad “Ax To the head” shot and a fucking terrible “arrow to the head” shot. Which would have been a lot easier to ignore had it not occurred at the two most crucial scenes in the film.

You do get to watch a mutant masturbate though…

…It’s weird.

So yeah, Wrong Turn 2 might not be anyone’s idea of a masterpiece, but if modern films occasionally make you wonder why you like horror in the first place, Wrong Turn 2 might feature as a nice surprise.

It goes down smooth.

Almost as if it were simple undemanding “Old School American Horror” you might say.

(Special thanks to Emily, without whom I wouldn’t have seen the film)