Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Computer Question

I’ve noticed it’s impossible for me to post directly from MicroSoft Word to Blogger. I have to first copy it to Notepad, then to Blogger, which is a pain. Anyone who knows more about computers than I do (that’s all of you, by the way) willing to explain why this is, and if there is a fix for it? Just one of those things that bugs me.

R.I.P., Philip Jose Farmer

Noted science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer died last Wednesday. He passed on peacefully in his sleep at the age of 91, according to his official website. Farmer was best known as the creator of the Riverworld series of novels, although my favorites among his work were the stories involving my favorite pulp character from the 1930s, Doc Savage. Rest in peace, Mr. Farmer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A New Serial Novel From Douglas Clegg

Starting this summer, Douglas Clegg will be offering a new serialized novel called The Locust free to subscribers of his newsletter. For anyone who doesn’t already know, Clegg is one of the very best writers working in the horror genre today. If you have already read his work, you will want to be sure you’re signed up for the newsletter so you don’t miss it. If you haven’t read his books, you should, and this would be a good place to start. I can’t endorse this too much, he is one of my favorite authors,as I have stated before. For more information on The Locust, and to sign up for the newsletter, go to

Trailer Park of Terror

Rednecks and zombies. They go together like peanut butter and…well, peanut butter goes with almost anything. The most recent example of this is Trailer Park of Terror, a 2008 adaptation of a comic book series.

Norma (Nichole Hiltz) is a young woman living in a trailer park populated with riff-raff and ne-er-do-wells. She is alone, since her mother was killed by the sheriff during the making of a porno movie (Norma had to take her place). Norma dreams of getting out, and her hopes are pinned on a young man from outside who has asked her to a dance. Unfortunately, when her date arrives, the denizens of the park decide to amuse themselves at his expense, and the roughhousing ends with the unfortunate suitor lethally impaled on a wrought-iron fence.

A despondent Norma walks away from the park where she meets the Devil, played by country singer Trace Adkins (I would have thought Toby Keith would be Satan). We know he is Satan because he is peeing fire. He strikes a deal with Norma, gives her a gun, and she returns to the park and murders everyone there, then kills herself and destroys the park by blowing up some propane tanks. This doesn’t get her off the hook, as in the years to come, she and her victims haunt the park in a semi-zombified ghostly state. A large number of disappearances occur in the vicinity.

Cut to the present, where the pastor of Vertical Trinity Ministries is taking a busload of troubled teens to a mountain retreat. The teens are each a stereotype of what a fundy might seem as troubled: a kleptomaniac, a druggie, a goth, a supposedly gay boy, etc. The bus has an accident near the site of the old trailer park, naturally, and the group takes shelter in the trailers, invited in by a deceptively normal-looking Norma. In the night, however, the true nature of the park is revealed, and one by one, the teens and the pastor meet their grisly dooms.

I thought the movie was at best okay, better as a concept than in execution. There are obviously supposed to be comedic elements, but the jokes fall flat. The much, much lower budgeted Hide and Creep did a far better job in that regard. As strictly a horror movie it is also flawed. None of the teens come off as anything other than extremely annoying, so it is very difficult to care about their fate. Everything is competently done in the movie, from a technical and a casting prospective, but there is just something missing.

The Keep

One of the important novels that helped jump-start the horror boom of the 80s was F. Paul Wilson’s first horror novel, The Keep, published in 1981. Wilson had published several short stories and a handful of science fiction novels before this, but The Keep was the work which made him a household name (at least among those of us who read books). I probably first read The Keep at the time of its first paperback publication and loved it. Over the years, I had wondered how well it would hold up, and got the chance to find out after Borderlands Press published a beautiful reprint edition.
The Keep is set in Eastern Europe in 1941. This was a tumultuous time. Poland and France had already fallen to the Wehrmacht, and by the end of the year, Germany would be locked in a death struggle against its former ally Russia. A small castle in Transylvania has been occupied by a German army unit under the command of Captain Woermann, a German regular army officer. This seemed like a tedious posting, but after one of the German soldiers breaks into a secret chamber in the wall of the keep, the soldiers begin to die one by one. Woermann’s dilemma is complicated by the arrival of an SS contingent under the command of the fated Major Kaempfer.

The two officers are unable to discover what force is killing their men, although it becomes increasingly obvious it is of supernatural origin. At a loss, they summon a Jewish scholar named Cuza, who is an authority on the keep, along with his daughter Magda, to solve the mystery. Cuza discovers the cause of the deaths is an ancient vampire, named Molasar. Can this be true?

I was very pleased and relieved to find The Keep to be just as good a novel as the one I remembering reading 25 years ago. It is still a fast moving story with well-drawn characters, and offers a number of “twists” on the vampire legend. (I am deliberately avoiding spoilers here, as those of you who have read the book will understand). Of particular interest is the crisis of faith suffered by the observant Jew Cuza, when he discovers, just as in the legends, Molasar is repelled by the sight of the cross.

Wilson supposedly made some tweaks in this new edition of the book, but I’m not enough of a scholar to have recognized them. There was a film adaptation of the book in 1983 directed by Michael Mann, but for much-debated reasons, it did not turn out well.

If there is anyone who hasn’t read The Keep, I would recommend taking the time to hunt it down. It is deservedly a classic.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Everybody Hates Remakes

Yet another of my pointless rants against the anti-remake crowd.

I’ve been seeing a lot of statements lately to the effect of “They keep making dumb remakes and sequels when ________ (name of book) would make a great movie.” Even though filming ___________ would be impossible or would cost $600 million because of special effects shots. I can commiserate to an extent with this sentiment, since I am always reading a novel and thinking “This would make a great movie, even if the special-effects shot of the giant slug eating Philadelphia would be cost-prohibitive.”

But the idea the latest remake or sequel took the place of a movie version of one of your beloved books is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Movie production is not a zero-sum game. If Friday the 13th doesn’t get remade, it doesn’t mean the studio automatically has to make another horror movie in its place. They allocated the funds to make Friday the 13th because they believed the name had a certain amount of marketability (and because they made money with the similar Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes remakes). So don’t blame the latest remake for the fact there hasn’t been a big-budget version of Bunnicula, The Vampire Bunny.

I realize I’m tilting at windmills here.

Vampyros Lesbos

This 1971 European movie is one I have been hearing about for many years, but had never had a chance to see. When I had the recent opportunity to pick up the cheap DVD of the movie, I took a chance on it.

Everyone has raved about how Jess Franco was a vanguard piece of experimental filmmaking, and was an influence on many films to follow. Frankly, I just didn’t get it. There seems to me to be little that is innovative about the film, and even the strange association of lesbianism and vampirism is a worn motif. The plot, such as it is, concerns a young lawyer sent to an island off the Turkish coast to settle an estate vampire. There, she either is or isn’t molested by a female vampire. And there’s a recurring scorpion, which ultimately drowns. It does feature a lot of female nudity, and simulated lesbianism, if that’s your thing. Unfortunately, there’s not much else.

The soundtrack has also won raves, but to me it was indistinguishable from any cheap porno movie of the 70s (not that I would know what that sounds like).

The early 70s must have been the Golden Age of lesbian vampires in the cinema. In addition to this movie, there was Daughters of Darkness, The Vampire Lovers, and the superior Countess Dracula. I did feel sorry for the scorpion, the most mistreated movie scorpion since The Wild Bunch.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Something For You

Watching a lot of horror movies has pretty much inured me to the sight of death. Coupled with my general hatred of mankind, this allows me to witness countless kills without altering the pace of my popcorn-chewing. It has also given me a good grasp on a few of the most common mistakes potential victims, which I felt I should share with you. To be honest, at first I thought “Why bother?” (see general hatred of mankind above), then it occurred to me that some of the readers of Dead In The South could be among those victims. If you guys start getting whacked, pretty soon the millions I’m raking in from ad revenue on this site will dry to a trickle, and I’ll have to live on the money I’ve got invested with my pal Bernie Madoff. So consider this a public service announcement.

You are out for your usual midnight stroll past the graveyard, when you hear cracking and ripping sounds coming from the boneyard. You glance behind you to find that the dead are rising from their graves, hungry for your precious brains. You turn to run and see a huge guy wearing a mask and carrying a bloody machete coming that way toward you. A car screeches up from the side, and a skinny blonde steps out. It’s Ann Coulter. In terror, you break the fourth wall, turn and say “Hey, Dead In The South guy! How can I get out of this mess?” Don’t worry, I’m here with the answer.

Dude, you are completely screwed. Zombies and psychos? You don’t have a chance. Throw in indestructible killing machine Ann Coulter, and you know those questions you’ve pondered about whether there’s an afterlife? You’re about to get an answer.

Just in case there’s someone else in dire but less hopeless straits, here are some life lessons I’ve learned by sitting on my couch, eating Cheetos and watching bad horror movies. These are things that have cost some of the worst actors of our generation their lives.

1. If you are home alone and some psycho begins to break in the house (this works in other scenarios as well), weapon up. It would be great if you have a loaded rocket launcher lying around, but if you’re not a survivalist, any blunt object will do. More people have been killed by being hit over the head throughout history than have died from gunshot.* Grab your club!

2. You’ve been chased by a psycho who has killed all your friends, but now you got the drop on him and managed to knock him down and stun him. Grab his weapon! Maybe you abhor firearms, but trust me, that shotgun will look better on you than him.

3. In a related scenario, if you think you’ve killed the bad guy chasing you, it doesn’t hurt to make sure. Maybe the hammer blow to the head killed him, maybe it didn’t, but remember the famous quote from the movie Love Story: “Decapitation means never having to say you’re sorry.” Let’s see him get back up without a head.

4. Are you one of those people who pick up the newspaper, then read it out loud to everyone around you? Then I hope the monster gets you. If you are that person, though, when you find an ancient book while exploring an old house, for Pete’s sake, don’t read it out loud, you don’t know where it has been. This is doubly true if the title of the book is any variation of the word “Necronomicon”.

5. You’re a young woman alone in the woods in the dark, and you come to a lake. Of course, you have an immediate urge to strip naked and go for a late night swim. The warm water rushing past your full yet supple breasts, swirling and caressing you in that private place…Sorry, I zoned out for a moment. Don’t do it. You’ll either set off the psycho watching you from the trees or attract the attention of the fish people that live in the depths of the lake.

6. If you are trying to make your escape in an automobile, don’t hesitate to run over your pursuer if you get a chance. Due to the basic softness of humans, it won’t hurt your car that much, and even if what is chasing you can’t be killed, a high-velocity impact with half a ton of metal will slow anyone down.**

7. Suspect your family and friends. You may well be in a movie being made by one of those people who likes to have the identity of the killer be a big twist, so it could be someone close to you. If there’s anyone in the group who doesn’t seem to be useful, go ahead and take them out. Even if they were innocent, they were probably going to die anyway.

8. If you are a young woman, tone down the makeup. Dress modestly. Be kind to others, yet resourceful. If you are in a slasher scenario, this should make you Final Girl, and she usually lives. Very important: if there is another young lady in the group with the same attributes, she is dangerous competition, and you should kill the bitch immediately.

9. If you find an old box, locked or chained up, don’t open it. It might contain riches, but your luck’s never been good before, so why should it start now?

10. Always assume that aliens are hostile. Better to be the one apologizing for an interstellar incident than the one reduced to smoking cinders.

So there you have a few pointers, which will hopefully help keep you alive. I would add more, but I just heard a thump from outside and the lights wet out, so I need to go check the generator. Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.

*I don’t really know if that’s true, but it seems logical.
** This doesn’t work if you live in Japan and your problem is a giant, rampaging lizard.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dark Town

Seven years of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer convinced me that celebrating a birthday is always a bad idea – something horrible goes wrong. In Dark Town, the Anderson family throws a party to celebrate the birthday of their patriarch. The Andersons are a typical family – dad’s a slumlord, oldest daughter is a lesbian to the disapproval of her family, and younger daughter is a moll for one of the local black gangs, holding their drug money. This Leave It to Beaver nuclear family hits the skids when just before the big party; dad gets attacked by a vampire squatter in one of his buildings and turned.

He goes to the party with the idea of spreading the wealth, in a manner of speaking. He carries a thermos full of infected blood (presumably – this is never actually explained), and gets several members of the family to take a swig, showing that his family is much more trusting than mine. The urban gang breaks into the home to recover their money, but have bitten off more than they can chew, due to the increasing percentage of vampires in residence. Madcap mayhem ensues.

I think part of the mood the makers of Dark Town was going for was sort of a The Thing type of vibe, with the humans steadily losing ground to their fangy adversaries, while being claustrophobically trapped with them. This doesn’t really work, since anyone can escape by running out the back door, but I suppose it’s what they want. It also continues the inexplicable association in the movies of vampires and lesbians.

Despite the many, many problems with this turkey, my wife and I had a good time with the movie, in a sort of MST3K fashion. We cracked up at one of the hapless gangbangers (we knew him only as Green Shirt) who got hurt in nearly every scene. He was shot, stabbed, crucified, and finally eaten. I guess you had to be there. There was also a fairly stomach-turning scene where dad performs a messy late-term vampiric abortion on his daughter -in-law. Worth renting if you’re in one of those moods.

H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds

The Asylum is a direct-to-DVD production company whose main stock in trade is producing “cover” versions of more heavily advertised, higher-budgeted movies. They countered Snakes on a Plane with Snakes on a Train, The Invasion with Invasion of the Pod People. Quality is not high on their agenda, since their business model seems to be based on people’s inability to read a DVD box cover. In 2005, when Steven Speilberg directed War of the Worlds as a Tom Cruise vehicle, they countered with H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. As always, use of the author’s name in the title indicates the script will deviate significantly from the original story.

The Asylum’s version of War of the Worlds stars former Brat Pack member C. Thomas Howell. He plays an astronomer and mainly serves as our point of view character. He has a wife and child, who head for Washington just before the attack occurs, so the main focus of his struggle is to find them. We get a brief glimpse of their family life beforehand. They are about to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, which leads to something of a shudder. Howell was 39 when the movie was filmed, but looks much older (he had suffered some health problems which caused drastic weight loss, and has prematurely grey hair) and the actress playing his wife is 24 and looks it, giving us a mental image of a courtship involving an older guy stalking a 14 year old. Their marriage is under pressure, since he is constantly being called to work on emergencies. I’m not sure what constitutes an emergency for an astronomer, maybe a lot of stars keep blowing up or something.

Anyway, the Martians attack, and as in the other versions, things go badly for the old human race. This version eschews the traditional tripod look for the alien machines in favor of a more crab-like appearance, although that doesn’t really matter much. They blast, melt, gas, and stomp various humans. As might be expected in a low-budget movie, the special effects are nothing to shout about, but they are passable.

Howell, whose character’s name is George Herbert (get it?), begins his journey to find his family and runs into facsimiles of the familiar characters from the novel. He meets a soldier, who is much more sympathetic than his written counterpart – it is his commander who is crazy – and a preacher. Ultimately, things work out as the Martians come to regret not taking their flu shots.

The first half of the movie really isn’t that bad, but it clangs to a halt about the time the preacher appears. Not that is solely his fault, it looks like the production ran out of money, and the second half is Herbert and the preacher talking to each other, and it isn’t exactly My Dinner With Andre. The preachers spend his time endlessly complaining about how hungry he is – it’s his comeback to everything – which would be more believable if he wasn’t stuffing his damn face in just about every scene. He’s supposed to be having some sort of existential crisis, trying to reconcile his faith with what is happening, but it seems more likely he’s just bummed because he finished the last of the crackers. Fortunately he gets crushed before he can suffer the slow death of starvation that would have taken him after he went without eating for 15 minutes.

The movie was successful enough for a sequel to be made (cleverly called The War of the Worlds 2), this time directed by Howell. As the foodie preacher is dead, I will probably get around to it eventually. It really wouldn’t have been a bad little popcorn flick if they’d had the money to keep the action scenes going in the second half.

For uncertain reasons, the movie is called Invasion in Europe. As you might guess, the box cover photo of an alien machine blowing up the White Hose a la Independence Day doesn't actually take place.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The 10 Best Asian Horror Movies of All Time!

Or, actually, my ten favorites, but it seems much more controversial to proclaim them the ten best of all time. And this way encourages people to call me an idiot in the comments.

Non-linear narratives. Nightmarish visuals. Continuity errors out the wazoo. Alternating between a prudish approach to sex and gore and a no-holds-barred style. These are the things which leap to my mind when I think about Asian horror movies. I was a little late to the party, but once I discovered them, I began to watch a lot of the Asian output of terror flicks. My consumption has slowed of late – there’s only so many times you can watched a ghostly pale child with dark hair crawl down the wall – but I discovered some real gems. The usual caveats apply: These are my opinions, there are movies I’ve completely missed so they got left off, you may feel differently, etc.

1. R-Point – This ghost story about a Korean army unit investigating an SOS from another unit long since disappeared is truly creepy, with an unnerving ending.

2. A Tale of Two Sisters – This re-telling of a traditional Korean folk tale is not for the impatient or those with short attention spans. Only near the end, when (and if) you catch on to the central twist of the movie will any of the scenes prior make sense, but for those who stick it out to the end, it is worth the trip.

3. Kansen (Infection) – A nearly deserted hospital suffers an outbreak of a virus that causes the afflicted to undergo horrible changes. Or does it? It features three consecutive endings, who is to say which is real?

4. Audition – Miike Takashi’s masterpiece of violent obsession shifts gears twice. It starts out a drama, becomes almost a romantic comedy, and then turns into grisly horror in the third act. Owing a lot to Misery, this movie makes Annie Wilkes seem like a creampuff.

5. Ringu – Re-made as The Ring, at times it doesn’t make much sense, but a very effective fright flick.

6. Koma – Closer to a mystery than horror, this is a very well acted story of organ theft.

7. Ju-On – Remade as The Grudge, its influence has been blunted by an army of re-makes, sequels, and imitators.

8. The Eye – I liked this Pang Brothers’ movie a lot better before it was remade 100 times.

9. Eko Eko Azaraku – The Japanese version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer spawned two sequels and a television series. The original is a dark story which uses Christianity as myth in the same way western countries use Eastern religions.

10. The Host- I’m not as big on this Korean monsterfest as some. Many of the characters are too annoying to believe. But it is always nice to see an Asian monster that doesn’t want to stomp on Tokyo.

Narrowly missed the cut: Dark Water, One Missed Call. Let me know if you have any suggestions/corrections/insults.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Room 205

There are some movies you shouldn’t watch after taking a significant amount of codeine (doctor’s orders, just to be clear. Room 205 is one of those. It took almost two hours for me to watch the first 11 minutes of this, as the movie and the codeine conspired to repeatedly put me to sleep.

Room 205 is a 2007 Danish film (originally called Kollegiet). Katrine, possibly the meekest woman on earth, goes away to college and moves into a dorm filled with some of the rottenest students on the planet. Her new dorm-mates are led by Sanne, who is the type of person that only exists in movies. She lives to treat everyone around her cruelly, and in real life, would have been the victim of a massive murder conspiracy long before these events. The only person who is half-way decent to Katrine is the resident stud, Lukas, who is nice to her long enough to score, and then treats her like the rest. Throughout the mistreatment, it never occurs to Katrine to stand up for herself.

It seems that Sanne’s room (#205, coincidentally the title of the film) is haunted. Years earlier, a girl living in the room was gang-raped and murdered in the bathroom, and since then, her spirit has been trapped in the mirror. I have to say, this movie does not paint the most pleasant picture of Danish dorm life. Katrine accidentally breaks the mirror with her blood (!), releasing the vengeful spirit, and she goes to work wreaking revenge on the hapless students. She does this mostly by hanging around and glowering at them until they have a fatal accident, getting their head caught in an elevator door, stabbing themselves through the eye with a piece of glass, or something. Katrine and her fellow outcast Rolf must reassemble the mirror and trap the spirit back where she belongs before she glowers at them.

This is one of the slowest-paced movies I’ve ever seen. Minutes pass with nothing happening, without hardly any dialogue. When a character walks down a hallway, you get to follow her every lethargic step of the way. Many of the scenes are deliberately shot at least partially out of focus, which I guess is supposed to lend an air of surrealism, but mostly just induces a headache.

The torpid pace might be excusable if the time was spent developing the characters, but they remain stereotypical enough to be summed up in a word or two. Katrine is a milquetoast, Sanne is a bitch, Lukas is a horndog, and Rolf is a wimp. Even in the penultimate scene where one character chases another through the dorm, they both seem mainly bored. By the way, one thing this movie has in common with American films is the actors look five to ten years too old for their parts.

The DVD for this was issued through Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House imprint, and later this year the company will produce an American version, tentatively to be called The Dorm. This is one case where I’m betting the remake will be better than the original.

On Cemetery Dance

Richard Chizmar, the founder/owner/publisher of Cemetery Dance has posted a very important message concerning the future of the imprint here. You should read it in its entirety, but to summarize part of it, it is a pledge to improve the schedule of publication, and that is a very important thing for the genre.

I have been accused of being critical of Cemetery Dance, and that isn’t completely unfair. I have griped a few times about delays in publishing titles and magazines, and being a wise-ass by nature, I’ve made several cracks relating to those problems. I’ll own up to that, but I also want it known that I love Cemetery Dance. Turning my head to my office bookcase, I count over 40 books on the shelf bearing the CD imprint, and I would imagine I own at least half again as many that are out of my sight. I’m a lifetime subscriber to Cemetery Dance magazine, I bought into the 2008 CD book club, and I would have done so again in 2009 if it had been offered, despite only about half the titles from 2008 being shipped to date. I have no personal relationship to the company, but I have had occasion to correspond with Mindy Jarusek, who has been a pleasure to deal with, and Norman Prentiss, who was very pleasant after I reviewed Invisible Fences.

Mr. Chizmar has undeniable reasons for the spotty publishing schedule, having to deal with family tragedy, and I certainly don’t want to downplay that. The importance of Cemetery Dance, though, extends beyond just the health of their company. It is important to the health of the entire field of horror publishing.

Horror fiction is largely the province of the small press right now, and Cemetery Dance is clearly the pre-eminent small press in the game.

If any of the small presses has the potential to break out of the small press label, it is Cemetery Dance.

There is currently no magazine regularly presenting short horror fiction to newsstand browsers. Cemetery Dance magazine is of high enough quality to change that.

Due in large part to the hard work of Mr. Chizmar, Cemetery Dance has developed working relationships with the important authors of the day. Stephen King. F. Paul Wilson. Brian Keene. Peter Straub. Ray Bradbury. Joe Hill.

Cemetery Dance’s problems have had repercussions. Possibly the most anticipated anthology in the history of horror is In Laymon’s Terms, the appreciation of the late Richard Laymon. It seems to be on track to be published this year, but the original estimated date of publication was 2002. The most recent issue of Cemetery Dance magazine contained articles and interviews written in 2006. This has caused potential buyers to become very wary, and I know of a number who no longer place pre-orders because they don’t know how long they will have to wait. If CD had offered the book club for 2009, the problems of 2008 might very well have caused it to fail. It is just difficult to take a company seriously (from a business standpoint) with these problems.

So, Mr. Chizmar’s post is wonderful news for all those who lament the economic problems facing the field we love. CD getting back on a regular production schedule will be great for Cemetery Dance, but it will have a positive ripple effect throughout horror. There is nothing that gets a reader/buyer excited about the genre as much as holding a good book in their hands.

In case anyone misses part of what I’ve said: I love Cemetery Dance, and I support them. I’m extremely grateful for what Richard Chizmar and his staff has brought to horror fiction. And I believe a new emphasis on publishing efficiency by CD is a fantastic event for the field. If you are unfamiliar with what they offer, I invite you to follow the link to their website in the sidebar, and browse their catalog.

New Friday the 13th Rocks the Box Office

A while back, the makers of the new Friday the 13th re-boot said they had a sequel green-lit, unless the movie tanked. To date, the movie has taken in more than $45 million domestically, and compared to its $19 million production budget, it is safe to say it is a success. Whether you like the movie or not, I contend this is good news for horror films in general. Hollywood bases production on past returns, and a successful Friday the 13th can only encourage them to make more genre films.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Here’s a movie that had sat on my shelf for a while, chiefly because of the “Eight Films to Die For” on the box cover. Not that all of the 8FTDF are terrible, but the quality is low enough that the odds aren’t in your favor. Having said that, I wish I hadn’t waited, because Frontière(s) is the best movie I’ve seen in the series.

It begins with the Paris riots of 2005. A group of four young men and one young woman have used the confusion to pull off a heist, and head for Amsterdam, leaving a mortally wounded gang member behind. Their plan hits a snag when they stop at a rural hostel (!) near the border. It seems the hostel is run by a family of unreconstructed Nazis, who also happen to be cannibals. Instead of making the big score, it becomes a struggle to survive.

The movie’s plot will remind many watchers of movies like The Hills Have Eyes, Tourist Trap, and Motel Hell, while the graphic torture scenes call to mind Hostel and the Saw series. While the gory scenes do place it within the recent “torture porn” sub-genre, there is a heart to this movie that serves to elevate it above the others. The characters are well-drawn, and the film does a good job of taking the robbers, who are initially seen as fairly unlikeable, and showing us sides of them that allow us to root them on, a vital part of hooking the viewer into feeling an interest in the outcome.

It is probably not necessary to understand the subtext of Xavier Gens’ movie, but it is trying to say something about the rise of right-wing authoritarianism in France, even if showing Nazi cannibals is pushing that pretty far. It also uses the ordeal of the multi-ethnic group against the “racially pure” cannibals to exaggerate and thus illuminate some of the problems France is facing with race and religion today.

For those who want the gore, the movie delivers, with a graphic hamstringing, a young man literally melting in a steam bath, another bisected with a table saw, and so on. It would be a pity if the movie is judged just by its gore, however.

The cast is excellent, particularly Karina Testa, Aurélien Wiik, and the always good Samuel Le Bihan (Le Pacte des loups). The German pronunciations do kind of come and go, with one of the family members even having his name pronounced two different ways, but that is a small thing. Gens makes effective use of what I believe is a Frazier lens in the final confrontation to give it a sense of hyper-realism.

There are a couple of the usual plot nit-picks. One of the victims makes the usual error of incapacitating one of the bad guys, and then doesn’t grab his gun. I’ve said it before: No matter what your feelings about gun control are, make an exception when being chased by murderous cannibals! In the same scene, one of the villains is felled by a blow to the head from a sledge-hammer, and is shortly up and around without any ill effects. Here’s your science tip for the day: If you are struck a hard blow in the head by a sledge-hammer, you probably won’t ever get back up, and if you do, your eggs will be severely scrambled.

For some reason, it also bugged me slightly when one of the murderers sees his dead brother and makes the sign of the cross. I realize that religious fanatics are often used in these things, but how can a devout Catholic ever find absolution for all this? (Father, forgive me for I have sinned. This week I killed and ate three people…)

The DVD presentation has French audio with English and Spanish subtitles, so if you don’t speak French and hate subtitles, this may be a problem. I speak a little French, but kept having to back up to get things I missed, so I finally turned the subtitles on for good.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

Last Friday night, I was at the sold-out 11:00 o’clock showing of the new Friday the 13th. Through a complicated process, I was with a good friend who hates horror movies, and having watched all eleven prior movies in two weeks left me babbling F13 trivia like an idiot, but my friend is good natured.

Any time you remake a movie with legions of fans, there are going to be some people you can’t please. If you just redo the exact same movie, you get panned for being unoriginal; if you re-imagine it, you take flack for straying too far from what the fans love. I thought Marcus Nispel and the rest of the people behind this did a good job of presenting something new while staying true to the spirit of the original movies.

The movie condenses the first three films of the series into one. A prologue tells what happened to Jason’s mother, the catalyst for his actions from the first one, and through the first half of the movie, he wears the sack on his head, a la Part 2. There are also two groups of victims. The first are campers who get attacked by Jason when they wander onto his territory. The second are a group of college kids staying at a rich kid’s lake house, and Clay (Jared Padalecki), whose sister was in the first group, and who is now trying to find her, or at least what happened to her. If there is one great flaw, it is there are too many victims for a 97 minute movie. You don’t really have a lot of time to get to know them before Jason does, and that hurts the impact of the movie somewhat. An exception is the rich kid (Travis van Winkle), who is a total asshole, which makes your anticipation of his eventual demise pretty sweet.

Nispel also directed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and his Friday the 13th has a very similar tone, which may be off-putting to some. Here Jason is much smarter and faster than in previous films, setting traps for his victims, using tools more effectively, and killing just those who encroach on his territory. Kane Hodder does not return as Jason, to the disappointment of me and many others, but Derek Mears does a good job. Jason has also dropped his supernatural aspects, and is portrayed her as just a man, albeit a very effective killer and outdoorsman. Padelecki makes a likeable protagonist, and most of the rest of the cast does what they can with somewhat underwritten roles.

There are a lot of little details filled in on background shots if you look for them (and care). When Padelecki and one of the young ladies goes down Jason’s tunnel, you can see behind them a wheelchair, which represents one of the victims from Part 2. I mentioned earlier Jason’s uncanny skill with killing devices which starts in Part 3, and here he makes a difficult shot with an arrow to skewer one of the kids. If you look closely, this is explained when the campers go through his house, and you see archery trophies.

A neat trick was presenting us with two possible Final Girls (since the movie is an amalgam of several installments). I picked the wrong Final Girl, so it was a slight shock when she didn’t make it. The ending was a little too predictable, but not enough to spoil things.

As I mentioned, the show was packed, and it was a very animated crowd, jumping and screaming during scare sequences, so it seemed to be effective. I was very surprised when my non-horror-watching friend told me how much he enjoyed it. This is a definite thumbs-up from me, probably a 7.5/10 (and I’m a hard grader).

One last aside: I’ve read a lot of interviews with cast members in genre magazines like Fangoria and Rue Morgue, and I was impressed they talked about how much they liked this sort of film (especially Padalecki). That;s a refreshing change from the early films, which seem to have embarrassed the actors who appeared in them.

Body Snatchers

For all of those who say remakes never work, I give you the movie versions of Jack Finney’s classic novel The Body Snatchers. It has been filmed four times, and the only time the story has really disappointed was in 2007’s The Invasion. The only time the original title was used was in 1993’s Body Snatchers, which is well done in a B-movie way. By the way, to address one ongoing controversy at the beginning, despite the subtitle tacked on when it went to DVD (The Invasion Continues), this is not a sequel, but a remake, and it was said so at the time of production.

(On an irrelevant note, this movie was filmed at Selma, Alabama’s defunct Craig Air Force base, and I watched filming from afar on several occasions. Which doesn’t mean anything, but it gives me a false sense of connection to the film.)

Steve Malone (Terry Kinney) has taken his family south as part of his job with the EPA to inspect Southern military bases. He has a wife, played to ditzy effect by Meg Tilly (her performance grated on my nerves at first, but later I understood it), a son Andy, and a daughter Marti (Gabrielle Anwar), from his first wife. Predictably, Marti doesn’t get along that well with her stepmother.

The family stops for gas, Marti goes to the restroom, and is assaulted by a crazed soldier. Welcome to Alabama! He tells her “They get you when you sleep” and then disappears. Marti’s trauma is eased when she meets a dreamy helicopter pilot (Billy Wirth) at the base. But something’s wrong at the base. People are losing their emotions, staring strangely, and voting Republican. Soon, Marti will learn the truth about the now-familiar pods, and will need her new boyfriend to escape.

No sense overly rehashing the plot, since chances are if you’re here you’ve seen at least one of the first three movies and know the score. One of the smart things done in this movie, I think, was to realize that everyone knew about the pod people, thus negating any suspense from wondering what is going on. Here, the audience knows what is going on a lot sooner than the characters in the movie, and it doesn’t waste time getting to the action. This is more reminiscent of the old B-movies, and knows where its bread is buttered. It is also a good thing that the movie is only 87 minutes long. This lean approach keeps the story moving at a good pace.

It was directed by Abel Ferrara, a talented guy who has generally been relegated to lower-budget realms. He does a good job in setting up the eerie shots of soldiers harvesting pods in the swamp, people being taken over, and so on.

After years of seeing mostly CGI films, the practical effects used here seem quaint yet effective. The cast is mostly good in their roles, although I wish Forrest Whitaker’s doomed doctor was given more screen time. Maybe they only had him for a couple of days, but if you have an actor that good, it’s a shame not to feature him more. [SPOILER] Something I thought would be a negative turned out to be a positive. It had been so long since I had seen the movie, I forgot the ending. Marti and the pilot are forced to leave without her brother Andy. Just as they are taking off, Andy comes running up and is hauled into the helicopter. I thought, “Great, the focus groups wouldn’t let them kill the kid.” But Andy turns out to have been changed into a pod person, and his sister is forced to throw him out of the helicopter at a high altitude. As always, kudos to a movie not afraid to kill a child. (I’m mean, I know).

There are a couple of bad things about the movie. Christine Elise’s rebel character is okay, but she dresses about ten years out of date even at the time of the film.

There is a general rule that voice-overs are a bad idea, usually resulting from weaknesses in the script that have to be explained, or meddling by people who think they’re a good idea. Anwar narrates the beginning and end of the movie, and it is a spike to the brain, imparting no useful information.

On a trivial note, it is widely acknowledged the body double for Meg Tilly’s nude scene was her sister Jennifer (the credits say “Meg Body Double – Jennifer). This is probably the only time that an actress has been body doubled by her sister.

This Time, Jason is the Victim

Life imitates art, apparently in reverse. At a party to celebrate the release of the new Friday the 13th, Warrington Gillette, who played Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2, was attacked by a woman who took away his axe and injured him with it. Gillette required medical treatment. Read the bizarre story here.

The Keenedom has Come

If you are a fan of horror fiction and want to interact with your favorite authors (and discover some new ones), I suggest you head over to Brian Keene’s revamped message board and sign up. A number of prominent horror writers are hanging out over there, and this would give you a chance to ask them questions about their work, and hopefully not press them to read your unpublished manuscript about a vampire who is a late night talk show host with a girlfriend who is a mummy and lounge singer. In addition to Keene himself, you can run into John Skipp, Bryan Smith, Wrath James White, James A. Moore, J. F. Gonzalez, Gord Rollo, and many others. It will also give you something to do when you’re at work, and want to pretend to be busy.

The Mist

I am either getting over or dying from some sort of upper respiratory gunk, so posting has been sporadic. As proof of life, I reprint my original review of The Mist. I have reviewed the black & white version of The Mist here, but this is different. Because, you know, color.

I watch a lot of horror movies (this site provides all the evidence you need), and the basic rule is: Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed. There isn’t another genre where they make so many films and get it right as rarely. Fortunately, you do not have to apply this rule to The Mist, Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the Stephen King novella. It completely rocks, and shows signs of being made for the people who appreciate this sort of work.

I first read The Mist in 1984. It was the highlight of Kirby McCauley’s seminal horror anthology Dark Forces (I believe McCauley was King’s agent at the time). I was wowed, and The Mist has come to be seen by King fans as one of the high water marks of his career. It was always a very cinematic story (I remember King saying something in an introduction about it being in some ways an homage to 50s creature features), but while lesser King stories have been filmed, The Mist has languished in development hell for years. Luckily, it waited for Darabont, who previously directed The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile from King stories. He gets it just right.

It is the story of David Drayton (Thomas Jane), an artist living in Maine with his wife and child. A damaging storm passes through leaving the area without power, and with roofs caved in and windows blown out. Drayton leaves his wife to go into town with his son and a testy neighbor (played by the great Andre Braugher) to get supplies at the local supermarket. At first, they ignore the strange mist (a fog, really) moving in from across the lake, but, while in the store, find the mist is filled with strange and deadly creatures. The rest of the movie is a struggle for the occupants of the supermarket to survive the creatures – and each other.

Darabont was smart enough not to follow the novella word for word. A movie and a written story are very different, and what works in one may not work in another. There are some subtle changes, especially to minor characters, and the ending is completely different.

The ending of the movie has created much controversy. A local reviewer was positively furious because of how it ends. I won’t give it away (you need to see it for yourself), but I will say this: This is an ending to a horror movie designed for horror fans. It is gritty and gut-wrenching and steadfastly refuses to cop out.

If this sort of movie appeals to you at all, you owe it to yourself to see it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jason X

A bittersweet day, as we reach the end of our journey through eleven Friday the 13th DVDs. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry…

If you are a traditional fan of the series, you might prepare to be shocked Although Jason X (often referred to as Jason Goes to Space) is the most maligned installment in the franchise, the one that everybody hates, it is my favorite Jason Voorhees movie. Why is this? Maybe it’s because of the visual gags and humor in the script or the incongruity of having such an old-school horror icon in a sci-fi setting. Maybe it’s Lexa Doig. I’m not saying having Lexa Doig in a movie automatically makes it a good movie, but it does earn it some points.

In the near future, Jason has been captured, but the government doesn’t know what to do with him. They’ve executed him by various means, but he just keeps regenerating and coming back. A scientist (Doig) has come up with a plan to place him in cryogenic stasis until such time as they can figure out how to exterminate him. At the last minute, a government scientist (played wonderfully in a cameo by David Cronenburg) steps in to take Jason so the military can do research on him. Doig protests to no avail.

You know this isn’t going to work out well.

And it does. Jason breaks free and slaughters Cronenburg and the soldiers. Doig manages to lure him into the freezing chamber, but just before he freezes, Jason manages to rupture the chamber, and Doig freezes with him. I am sad at this.

450 years in the future (the movie can never keep straight how long it has been, so it is best not to pay any attention to the timeline) a group of students on a field trip discover the cryogenic facility. It seems the earth is now unliveable, and visitors just come to plunder things. They discover Jason and Lexa, and take them back to their ship. Noticing how hot she is, they revive Lexa, but aren’t stupid enough to do so with Jason. No need, he wakes up all on his own, and before you can blink, the body count is rising (Jason kills more people in this movie than in any other). The deaths are fairly imaginative, a head dunked in liquid nitrogen, a soldier impaled on a giant screw in order to set up a pun, and a lot of traumatic amputation.

Things look grim for the future folks, when one of the geeks modifies his nipple-less android (Lisa Ryder) into a fighting machine(Geeky nit-pick: He says he’s given her an “upload”, but he means an “upgrade”). She kicks Jason’s ass, and leaves him dead and in pieces on a table. Well, that’s that.

Except the table Jason lies on is the medical table, where they use nanobots to rebuild tissue. Uh-oh. The nanos do their stuff, and Jason is reborn. Where they were short tissue, they used metal from the ship, giving us a sort of Mecha-Jason, even more deadly and hard to kill. After a totally illogical explosive decompression scene that lasts for a couple of minutes (it’s explosive decompression, it would be over in a flash, and if not, it wouldn’t be powerful enough to send people flying through the air), everyone decides to just leave him.

The best part of the movie is a scene set in a virtual reality simulator much like the Enterprise’s holodeck. To distract Jason, Doig programs a replica of 20th century Crystal Lake, complete with giggling, topless coeds asking Jason to have premarital sex (You know Wesley Crusher did shit like that all the time). This causes him to go wild trying to kill girls who aren’t even there.

So anyway, that’s it for the old Jason movies. Barring family complication, I should have a review of the new Friday the 13th up by early next week.
Ki-ki-ki! Ma-ma-ma!

Demon Eyes

Reprinted from elsewhere, written prior to my reading Black Cathedral:

Demon Eyes is the story of a young woman working for a large English firm. Her lover dies under mysterious circumstances just as she is offered a promotion to personal assistant to the firm’s president. Her first assignment is to attend a meeting of the firm’s higher officers and other powerful business partners around the world. The bulk of the book occurs at the business meeting at a secluded country estate. There she finds that things (and the participants at the meeting) are not what they seem.

The story was exciting, interesting and fast-paced. For some reason, it reminded me in tone of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs’ series about Agent Pendergrass, and that’s a good thing. Once I started it, I finished fairly quickly, always the sign of a good book.

There were a few small things that threw me. The leader of the creatures states the purpose behind his plan is to make the grandchildren of the creatures stronger, yet I was sure it was established earlier in the story they couldn’t breed, and reproduced more in the manner of vampires, by turning humans. Also, the creatures, once exposed, seem awfully easy to kill, for near immortal, powerful beings.

Still I would recommend Demon Eyes, and I look forward to the next Maynard-Sims collaboration.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Freddy vs. Jason

There are decisions we have to make in life that define us. Which school to attend, who to marry, when to start a family…important things that have long-lasting consequences. Here we have one of those decisions: Should the next movie watched and reviewed in the Friday the 13th series be the next one filmed (Jason X) or the next in the chronological storyline (Freddy Vs. Jason)? I decided to go with Freddy Vs. Jason, for reasons which will be revealed in the Jason X review.

Before getting to the movie itself, a few words about movie reviewers themselves. When this movie came out, it received a lot of negative reviews from writers who claimed it was just a gorefest, nothing more than two movie monsters fighting. The name of the movie is Freddy Vs. Jason, what the hell did you expect? To watch this movie and then complain it wasn’t as deep as Proust is ignorant. Movies should be reviewed for what they are supposed to be, not what you think all movies should be. Legendary film reviewer Pauline Kael (probably the most famous in her field of all time) freely admitted she hated science fiction and horror movies, yet she kept on reviewing them. If you know you hate something in advance, don’t go see it, and a title like Freddy Vs. Jason should be a good tip-off of what to expect.

As those of you who have been following along know, at the end of the events in Jason Goes To Hell, Jason was in hell. Again, notice the title. Also temporarily out of the picture is New Line’s own slasher, Freddy Krueger. Freddy’s still around, but he derives his power from being feared by children, and all of the kids in Springwood who remember him have been institutionalized and drugged to prevent dreaming. His solution? Resurrect Jason, who will instill fear in the minds of Springwood kids, some of which will be blamed on Freddy, and he will be powerful again.

So Freddy pulls Jason up out of hell and sends him to Springwood, where he begins to slice and dice the locals, most noticeably at a cornfield rave. The plan works, and soon Freddy is back to full strength. His new problem is Jason is not inclined to step aside and leave the slaughterin’ to Freddy. To most people, there would be plenty of potential teen victims to go around, but Freddy doesn’t want to share, and soon Freddy is in Jason’s dream world, kicking his ass. He does this by exploiting Jason’s fear of water, a fact that overlooks the little detail that Jason has spent half his frickin’ time in the previous nine films underwater without being bothered by it. I suppose they have to give Jason a weakness, since Freddy’s whole act is based around exploiting people’s fears.

A few survivors of the ongoing massacre realize what’s going on, and come up with a plan: They’ll transport a drugged Jason back to his home base of Crystal Lake, pull Freddy out of the dream world into reality the same way it’s done in every other Freddy movie, wake Jason up, and let them battle to the death. This more or less works. If you want to know who wins, watch the movie.

A few things of note:

New Line wanted to make this movie as far back as 1987, but had problems, first with securing the rights from Paramount, then with coming up with a workable script.

Because director Ronnie Yu wanted a taller actor to play Jason, or because they thought Kane Hodder would be in some way difficult (take your pick, both stories have been published), Freddy vs. Jason uses Ken Kirzinger as Jason instead of Hodder. Kirzinger does a good job, but count me as one of those who thinks Kane Hodder is the definitive Jason Voorhees. Hodder’s great comment on the casting change: “I guess they wanted Jason to be a skinny bitch this time.”

When you watch a series like this in sequence, you notice an interesting trend in casting. In the early slasher films in the 80s, the cast was generally unknown actors who would compile few credits after their appearance in a genre film. Part of the fun of watching them was catching a to-be-famous actor like Kevin Bacon or Johnny Depp paying the bills in one of these movies. It was considered bad for your career to make a slasher film in 1980, so name stars tended to avoid them. In the post-Scream era, these movies have a certain “cool” cachet, and attract a cast of more promising young actors. This one includes Monica Keena and the criminally underutilized Katherine Isabelle (the Ginger Snaps series). Isabelle is an actress who deserves to be seen in many roles, better than the one she got here.

I thought the biggest problem in integrating the two series was the marked difference in tone between the two. The Friday the 13th series is mostly a grim slasher series, while the Nightmare on Elm Street series was just as gory but with almost cartoonish violence. I think they mostly succeeded here, but it seems that people who are more Friday the 13th fans like myself feel the movie is too much of a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, while fans of the other series feel exactly the opposite. I dunno, maybe that means it worked.

Tomorrow: The big finish!

Shirley Jackson Awards Auction.

If you are so inclined, head on over to this site and participate in an auction to benefit the Shirley Jackson Awards. The proceeds go to benefit the awards themselves, and just $1.00 will get you a chance to win some interesting and unusual items. I’d invite you to check out Nick Namatas’ offering, for certain.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Friday the 13th Part IX: Jason Goes To Hell

By the time the eighth Friday the 13th movie had been released, Paramount believed they were in a cycle of diminishing returns, and decided not to proceed further with the series. Instead New Line acquired from them the rights to make subsequent Friday the 13ths. New Line’s master plan was to eventually pair Jason Voorhees with New Line’s own horror icon, Freddy Krueger. A variety of difficulties, mostly revolving around the script, prevented this from happening for more than ten years. But in the meantime, New Line decided to proceed with a movie that would set up the eventual showdown, 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell, the ninth installment in the series.

It had become traditional to begin these movies with Jason right where we left him at the end of the previous one, and come up with a plot device to revive him. Unfortunately, at the end of Jason Takes Manhattan, he was a dead little boy covered in sewage, which presented some real obstacles. So they did the right thing: They ignored it. (There is supposedly a comic book that bridges the gap between the two films, but I haven’t seen it.)

We open with a young woman at a cabin in the woods. She takes a shower, and we know the hang-up Jason has about boobies. Jason attacks and she runs for her life – at which point lights come on, and soldiers come from everywhere (even rappelling out of trees for no good reason) and start shooting Jason repeatedly. It was all a trap. They blow Jason into little pieces, and the series finally comes to an end. Fantastically enough, this movie was less than eight minutes long, so it’s perfect for those with short attention spans.

But wait! It continues. The soldiers carry the Jason chunks to the morgue for an autopsy. During the autopsy, the coroner stares at Jason’s barbequed heart. Mmmm tasty, he thinks, and before you can say WTF, he is eating the heart. This apparently allows Jason to jump into his body, and our hero has acquired a brand new supernatural ability. The coroner, by the way, is black, so Jason is now a brother. This is justice, when you consider how many African-Americans have been dispatched by the original in the course of the series. The new Jason goes on a, you guessed it, killing spree, making his way to Crystal Lake.

Apparently Jason still has a sister living in the old hometown, and he needs her. Although he can jump into new bodies, the new bodies wear out fast. Only by jumping into the body of another Voorhees can he be truly reborn. The flipside is only a Voorhees can truly kill him. There is a bounty hunter hanging around to explain these things, fortunately. Oh yeah, when Jason is in another body, mirrors reveal who he really is, which makes it the reverse of vampires, I suppose.

Anyway, Jason needs to get into the body of his sister (played by Erin Gray, now estranged from Buck Rogers), her daughter, or granddaughter. Much carnage ensues.

One of the notable things about the movie for horror fans is the number of in-jokes related to other horror movies can be seen. A character looks through the Necronomicon from the Evil Dead movies, in the cellar we see the crate from Creepshow, and most famously, at the end, Jason’s mask is swept underground by the razor-bladed glove of Freddy Krueger.

The biggest problem with the movie is how little we actually see Jason himself, since he is busy jumpng from one body to another. This is a shame, since Kane Hodder has nailed the character, he should be used much more.

And just for trivia’s sake, Jason Goes To Hell was very profitable, and Paramount almost immediately regretted their decision to let the franchise go.

Hypericon 09

The guest list for Hypericon ’09 is up here. Once again, this is looking like one of the best horror cons (although it is still referred to as sci-fi) in the country. Highlights that jump out of the list are Bryan Smith, Ron Kelly, Deborah LeBlanc, Wrath James White, and of course the Guest of Honor, Brian Keene. There are usually more names added later on, but this is already a stellar group. And having Keene there probably triples our chances of being arrested. I hear the Nashville jails are nice.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

By the time we reached the eighth installment of the franchise, the producers were faced with steadily declining box office (although the series was still profitable) and running out of ideas about what to do with the series. The formula of campers getting murdered in the woods seemed exhausted. So, the producers thought, why not send the big guy to the big city? Thus Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.

When last we saw our hero, he was once again resting comfortably at the bottom of Crystal Lake. His sleep is disturbed when the anchor of a boat being used by two teens to make out (what were the chances?) snags an underwater power cable. This is a very fragile cable, and one whose insulation is more conductive than the cable itself, surprisingly. The anchor tears into the cable, the electricity is transferred to the slumbering Jason (we’ve already established that electricity revivifies him, strengthening the idea he is the modern Frankenstein’s Monster), he wakes up, kills the kids, and relaxes while he drifts with the currents.

The boat finally reaches ground at a dock where the local high school is about to go on a cruise. Seeing the usual collection of school kids (the local high school must have a higher mortality rate than Sunnydale), Jason stows away and starts to pick the kids and crew off in his usual fashion. Included on the boat are a young Kelly Hu, who would have put up more of a fight if she had her adamantium claws,* and Jason’s typical nemesis, a girl with psychic powers, although this girl’s power doesn’t really seem to be useful or relevant.

After most everyone on board is killed, the survivors, including Jason of course, reach New York City. Just how a boat can sail from Crystal Lake to New York is never explained. There, Jason runs into street gangs, the indifference of New Yorkers, and the lights of Time Square. He meets his end this time in the sewer, in the most bewildering climax to any of the films. Sewage washed over him which…reverts him to a child? WTF? I suppose he could have been taken out a long time ago if someone had thrown a full chamber pot at him.

Although the subtitle is Jason Takes Manhattan, most of the action actually takes place on the boat, which is a good thing, because those sequences are much stronger than the ones after he reaches the city.

The best thing about this one, in my opinion, is Kane Hodder really nails his portrayal of Jason Voorhees. It’s here where he starts the performances that have made him the definitive Jason. Faced with having to bring a character to life which wears an expressionless mask, Hodder projects menace by his pattern of deep breaths and the sudden, sharp motions of his head. For an example of how hard this is, see the Halloween series, where Michael Myers never really overcomes the limitations of his mask.

As a trivial note, the man Hodder throws into the mirror in the diner scene is played by Ken Kirzinger, who would take Hodder’s place (amid great controversy) in Freddy Vs. Jason.

*This is an X-Men 2 reference.

Are We In A New Wave of Slasher Films?

It will be interesting to see how well the remake of Friday the 13th does at the box office this weekend. Initial feedback indicates a very favorable response, and this could herald a new wave of throwback slasher-style films. Recent results have shown there’s money in these remakes. The My Bloody Valentine remake has a domestic gross of over $48 million, with only a $15 million production budget. Last year, the Prom Night remake grossed almost $44 million in the U.S. with a budget of $20 million, while Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween pulled in over $58 million. The budget doesn’t include P & A costs and some other expenses, but it does indicate the slasher genre can still turn a tidy profit, and as long as there’s money to be made, expect to see more of them. All figures courtesy of the premiere site for tracking box office results, Box Office Mojo.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood

For many, many years, fans of the laconic Jason Voorhees yearned for the day when he would square off against another horror icon, Freddie Krueger. What a lot of people forget is that he had already fought a big name in horror years before, when he came up against Carrie. Well, okay, she wasn’t called Carrie, but that’s basically who Tina from Part VII really is.

When Tina was a young girl, she and her parents went on a vacation to Crystal Lake, probably taking advantage of the cheap rates (as the franchise will move away from Crystal Lake in the next installment, this may be the last time I can use that joke, so I’m milking it for all it is worth). Tina’s bad-tempered dad gets into an argument with Mom, and Tina flees into a boat in the middle of the lake. Dad comes out to the pier to get Tina to come back to shore, when she kills him by pulling the pier down around him. With her freakin’ mind.

You know she’s gonna have issues.

Years later, Tina is nineteen and under psychiatric care. Her doctor brings Tina and her mother to Crystal Lake to relive the incident. They think he’s doing this to help her, but the doc just wants to prove Tina is telekinetic so he can write a book. Bad doctor! I hope he gets what’s coming to him.

At the cabin next door, some kids Tina’s age are throwing a birthday party for a friend, so there are some extra victims people for Tina to pal around with. Meanwhile, Jason is still at the bottom of the lake where we left him last time, enjoying the peace and quiet. Until…

Tina senses a presence in the lake, thinks it’s her dad, and uses her power to raise him. It turns out to be Jason, and Tina is officially the Tommy “my stupidity got everyone killed” Jarvis of this movie. Jason predictably goes amok, and soon the party next door is getting less crowded. The evil psychiatrist does get his.

Eventually, we have the showdown, as Carrie Tina and Jason face off. It’s a pretty decent fight, until Tina cheats and raises ol’ Dad out of the lake. Dad grabs Jason and pulls him back to the bottom of the lake. I couldn’t understand why they never retrieved dad’s body after he drowned, but maybe they were Protestants.

Two key things about Part VII:

Although this installment is generally disappointing, it is the first to feature stuntman Kane Hodder as Jason. He will remain in the role for the next three movies, and to most Friday the 13th fans, remains the definitive Jason.

Every Friday the 13th movie made in the 80s had trouble with the MPAA over violence and gore, and they were all forced to make cuts. Part VII suffered more than any of the others, and was cut to the point of being bloodless. If your Sunday-School teacher granny ever wants to watch one with you, this is the one to choose.

Ackerman Auction

Horror collectors might want to take note of this: according to The New York Times, in April a company called Profiles in History will auction off items from the estate of horror icon Forrest J. Ackerman. Among the items auctioned will be numerous first editions, and the ring worn by Bela Lugosi in 1931's Dracula. If bids for the ring don't go over $5.00, that baby is mine.

Scarecrow Gods

Maxon Phinxs is a black man who returned from Vietnam in bad shape. Tortured there, he is horribly disfigured and disabled. Back home in Tennessee, the only job he can get is as the Maggot Man at the local chicken plant, and is shunned by his neighbors. But Maxon learned something in his ordeal – how to temporarily jump his mind into the body of an animal.

Meanwhile, in the Southwestern desert, an evangelist known as John the New Baptist is gathering followers to his new religion, but with a sinister purpose. If John succeeds, there will be apocalyptic results.

Along with a supporting cast of odd but well-defined characters, Phinxs and John move toward a showdown between good and evil.

It probably isn’t necessary for me to praise Scarecrow Gods. Everyone else has, and it won a Stoker Award. But it is a book that deserves as much praise as it can get.

The story is inventive and fresh, but where writer Weston Ochse really sparkles is in his depth of characterization. He does a great job of bringing both the good and bad characters to life. When I reached the end, I was disappointed to leave the world of Scarecrow Gods.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

The sixth installment of the series marks an important change in the Jason mythology. Starting with this one, no longer would there be any pretense that Jason Voorhees was just a masked psycho. From here on, he is clearly a supernatural creature, a resurrected, unkillable zombie. This may be the reason that some of my favorites in the series come from here on out.

Seeing gruesome murders in Part IV sent Tommy Jarvis to a series of mental institutions, but apparently, seeing another set of killings in Part V canceled that out, and he’s released and cured at the start of VI. Based on the timeline of the movies, Jason has been dead and buried for about ten years, so the smart money would say to let him lie. But Tommy decides the best thing to do would be to dig him up and burn the body. There’s no logical reason for this, but maybe Tommy had been smoking peyote. That shit will fuck you up. Any way, he gets Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter to go with him to the cemetery to do the deed. However, lightning strikes the metal post Tommy has used to impale Jason, and this wakes him. He kills Horshack, and departs to pick up where he left off.

Tommy has well and truly fucked up.

Tommy makes his way to Crystal Lake (which has been re-named Forest Green, so the fifty or so murders have finally started to catch up with real estate prices) to warn them of the danger. No one will believe him, of course.

Meanwhile, back at Crystal Lake Forest Green, it’s time for summer camp (surprise!). We see a truly amazing thing: Kids arriving for camp. Although summer camping is the recurrent theme in these movies, this is the first time we actually see kids attending camp. A lot of deaths occur, which are all Tommy’s fault when you think about it, before Tommy lures Jason out to the lake, and drowns him, leaving him chained to the bottom of the lake, where he was when the series started. Tommy has now survived his third Friday the 13th movie, and will retire.

Of special note to me is one of those things I find funny (there is an increase in humor in this installment, which will remain from this point on) but no one else does. Among the victims are a group of executives in the woods for a bonding paint ball game. Jason slaughters them, but when he faces the last of the group, the paint-baller shoots him – with his paint ball gun. Jason does his classic reel back motion when he gets shot, then slowly lowers his head and looks at the paint splatter on his chest. This cracks me up, for some reason.

Of Hollywood and Remakes

We fanboys are a passionate lot, protective of what we see as those properties which helped form our personal interests. The controversy of the week is one that periodically resurrects itself, the tendency of Hollywood to remake classic (and not-classic) films. Brian Keene posted about the large number (55) of remakes currently in the works, based on another post at the Den of Geek. The reaction was what you’d think, the vast majority of responses decrying Hollywood’s lack of creative, and opposing the remakes. I understand that people feel this way, but it is one of the most bewildering things to me.

First of all, there is a perception that this is new to the movie industry, that they have started remaking movies after their creative well has run dry. A popular theory, but wrong. First of all, if you are a fan of classic film, you may already know the great 1941 film The Maltese Falcon was the second remake of that story, all coming within eleven years. In fact, one of the most criticized movies on the remake list, John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing (one of my favorites) was actually a remake of the excellent 1950 film The Thing From Another World. And some movies do well as remakes. It took until the fourth version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers to get a bad one.

The second thing is the clarion cry that most of these remakes will be terrible. Probably so. Let me introduce you to Sturgeon’s Law. As the story goes, back in the 1950s a friend asked the great writer Theodore Sturgeon why he wrote science fiction, since ninety percent of it is crap. “That’s true,” Sturgeon replied. “Ninety percent of science fiction is crap. But that is okay, since ninety percent of everything is crap.” So applying Sturgeon’s Law, ninety percent of the remakes will be crap, but it is no big deal, since ninety percent of non-remakes are crap, too. For my money, I’ve been at least mindlessly entertained by most of the remakes, so I’m not too concerned.

The last point, and the one that really gets me, is that fans feel the need to defend their favorites. (Also if your favorite “original” movie is The Last House on the Left, which is an overrated rip-off of The Virgin Spring…well, you have rare taste). The moans rise to the sky: “They’re destroying a great movie!” “They shouldn’t touch this classic!” “They ruined the movie for me forever!”

This would be true if a remake involved destroying or altering all existing copies of the original, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t change the original at all. If you can’t stand the idea of a new version of Hellraiser, here’s an idea: Go and buy the inexpensive DVD of the original. That way you will always have it, unchanged from the day it first came out. And pretend the remake doesn’t exist. No one forces you to watch these things, and if they bother you, you shouldn’t.

This is meant in no way to disparage those who believe that remakes are a sin. You outnumber me by a wide margin. I’m just urging you to step away from the ledge. Don’t go to these movies if you don’t want to. Read a book instead.

Deep Evil

Ah, the Saturday night low-budget sci-fi horror movie. This week’s offering was Deep Evil, a 2004 offering starring Lorenzo Lamas. I know, the rest of the review practically writes itself.

In the 1950s, a meteor landed in Russia. In it was an alien microbe. Russian attempts to clone it ( as an aside, the movie uses the word “clone” a lot, but I don’t think they actually knew what clone meant)ended in disaster, and after the end of the Cold War, we ended up with it, although I don’t know how. In addition to the microbe turning into a monster that looks a lot like Creature from the Black Lagoon, it exudes water that it can control, making it form into any shape and infecting anyone it comes into contact with. I didn’t understand any of that, either.

In true sci-fi movie fashion, the military decides to turn the alien microbe and its water into weapons, which is never a good idea. If it were policy to have military decision makers watch a representative sampling of these movies, a lot of grief would be avoided. Anyway, they set up a secret research facility near Fairbanks, Alaska. As you might guess, things go awry, and soon everyone in the facility is dead, and the military is forced to send in a team. By this point, BW is complaining about how slow the movie is. She just wants to get to the monster, and who can blame her?

The team consists of a half dozen military types and a couple of civilian scientists, to exploit the movie convention that military personnel and civilians can’t stand each other. As is typical in these things, the team consists of four officers and two sergeants. Deep Evil is even worse than most films on military protocol, with no clear structure, as they can’t seem to decide if the major outranks the captain, and one sergeant addresses the other as “sir”. They also bitch constantly about information being kept from them, which was grating. Presumably, all these soldiers had some form of security clearance, and would understand how this works. In reality, if you are told you don’t have clearance to know something, that’s the end. If you gripe about it, they can your ass.

So, our motley team enters the facility, the water attacks (really) and ultimately things blow up, as they tend to do. You have to share my love of bad movies to watch this one.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Friday the 13th News

We're still almost a week away from the new Friday the 13th movie, but according to internet reports, the movie is generating such positive feedback, another F13 movie has been greenlit, for release in late summer 2010. If this is so, the movie would be the...13th in the series.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

When the producers of the Friday the 13th movies decided to continue after the fourth installment (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) they faced a quandary: Since Jason died at the end of the previous flick, how could they continue the series? Actually it wasn’t a quandary, since Jason is dead at the end of eight of his eleven appearances, and the stock solution for the problem is to open the next movie with “He gets up.” Still, the producers thought it was a problem, so they managed to come up with a terrible solution for it.

The movie begins in a rainy graveyard at night. While Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) from the previous movie watches in fear from the bushes, two losers dig up Jason’s grave. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Jason wakes up, kills the graverobbers, and prepares to resume his reign of terror. The movie is starting just like we thought it would. No, wait, it isn’t. It’s just a dream. Psych!

Back in reality, a now grown-up Tommy wakes up from his nightmare. It seems ol Tommy hasn’t been the same since his tete-a-tete with Jason, and he’s mostly been institutionalized since. He is going to a new home for mental patients, which apparently exists both in the South (judging by accents) and near Crystal Lake. The home has a novel approach to mental illness: Let dangerous psychotics roam around mostly unsupervised using dangerous tools until they kill each other off. Snicker if you must, but this movie was made in the 80s, and that pretty much describes the Reagan administration’s approach to mental illness.

One of the residents of the facility is Joey, a heavy, possibly retarded young man whose mental illness is an apparent compulsion to annoy the hell out of everyone, putting his chocolate stained hands on the newly washed laundry, and so on. After upsetting the girls with their laundry, he wanders over to where one of the patients, a psychopath with rage issues, is chopping wood with an axe. Joey begins to annoy the wood-chopping psycho, and before you can say “bad idea”, the axe is buried in Joey’s brain, and we have our first death. And Jason didn’t do it!

The head-axing either inspires him or makes him jealous, because there is soon a familiar, hockey-wearing figure chopping his way through the cast. Although…wasn’t the mask decorated in red instead of blue in the previous films? Where’s the axe cut in the top of the mask? Do we have massive continuity errors?

Nope. As it turns out, it isn’t Jason at all. Son of a bitch. Jason really is dead forever (Errrrrr). It turns out that one of the EMTs who responded to Annoying Kid getting whacked was secretly the kid’s father, and seeing his beloved son, who he had nothing to do with, killed caused him to go off the rails. He goes on a murder rampage and decides to kill everybody, even characters that had nothing to do with Beloved-but-ignored son’s death. And this is the biggest flaw of the movie, which is my least favorite of the series. Would you make a 007 movie without James Bond? Of course not. Then why make a Friday the 13th film without Jason. It just ain’t right.

A few notes:
A New Beginning features a staple of the series, the 50s-era greasers who get killed. Apparently Crystal Lake (or wherever this is supposed to be) has a time rift that allows refugees from The Wild One to enter our time to get sliced and diced by our beloved monster, and two of them bite it here.

There is a subplot of a hillbilly woman and her dim-witted son who lives next to the facility for the mentally disturbed kids, and hates them. Every time she was on the screen, I thought of Reba McIntyre.

One of the four black characters in the movie survives. If you’ve watched any slasher movies, you know an African-American character that doesn’t end up a victim has really beaten the odds.

Speaking of African-American characters, two of them figure in one of the most disturbing scenes in the movie. It seems the kid who lives at the camp has an itinerant brother named Demon. Demon has stolen Debarge’s wardrobe and wears enough Jheri Curl to solve the energy crisis. Demon offers everyone Mexican food, and then suffers the ills of bad tacos. He goes to the outhouse, and while noisily taking a dump, sings a duet with his girlfriend on the other side of the door. No kidding. When moments like this occur, people look at each other in amazement, but I was alone, so I just looked at myself.