Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to Everyone


I hope Christmas was everything you wanted it to be, and remember, Santa is an anagram for Satan.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Blade Spinoff?


Actor Stephen Dorff has informed Total Film he has been in contact with Blade director Stephen Norrington about a possible spinoff with his character from the movie, Deacon Frost. I didn't see that coming. I thought Frost was dead at the end of the movie but then again (a) he was a vampire and (b) it's a movie. I also thought Norrington had retired after his problems working with Sean Connery on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. We'll see what happens.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Predators


The original Predator, released in 1987 and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is one of those movies whose fame has managed to outlive its decade. Still revered by its fans, it seemed ready-made for a successful franchise, but 1990’s Predator 2 was a disappointment, and the character remained dormant until brought back in Aliens vs. Predator (not as bad as its reputation, but still a little disappointing) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (It’s impossible to say too much about this one, since it was filmed with a total absence of light. I have no idea what happened in the movie, although I’ve seen it twice.). Various ideas have floated about reviving the titular monster, but none came to fruition, until this year’s Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators.

The movie opens with Royce (Adrien Brody) falling through the air. He has been thrown out of some sort of craft, and is saved by an automatic parachute (although the parachute opens low and slams him to the ground, which seems contradictory to their purpose). Royce is a mercenary (presumably) and he finds himself in the company of Nikolai, a Spetsnaz commando, Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), a member of the Zetas Mexican gang, Isabelle (Alice Braga), a CIA sniper (disregard what is said about her by Royce, he’s wrong), Stans (Walter Goggins, playing his usual racist redneck) and so on. All are obvious killers, except for Edwin (Topher Grace), who is a doctor and is presumably there to act as the group medic. It seems the deadliest of humans has been plucked from their world by the Predators and placed on a “game preserve” planet to be hunted by the Predators. This brings the story even closer to its original Most Dangerous Game antecedent. There are also other species from other worlds, but they barely figure into the story.

The seven surviving humans (one has an unfortunate parachute accident and does not live to take part) soon realize they are being hunted by the Predators and spend most of the movie trying to figure out how to fight back. There’s not much more of a plot than that; this is an action movie through-and-through. Complicating the situation somewhat is the presence of two distinctive (if you look closely) Predators, who apparently don’t like each other very much. I do wonder how a race that spends all its time trying to kill each other ever gain the technology to move about the universe so freely. There is a twist near the end which you may or may not find obvious, and the end sets up the possibility of a sequel, which Rodriguez has promised will be forthcoming.

My main reservation going in was Adrien Brody as a lead. He is a fine actor, but is better known and was seemingly better suited to playing more passive, intellectual roles. I was pleasantly surprised. Brody beefed himself up somewhat for the role, and talks in a lower, gruffer voice, and all in all, comes off well as a soldier for hire who is capable but interested mainly in saving his own skin. The rest of the cast is a bit stereotypical; one-note characters in the movie just so there would be someone to kill. The worst offender, the fault of the script, not the actor, is Nikolai. He is portrayed as an almost mindless brute with a machine gun. The Spetsnaz are the Russian Special Forces, and only take the best mental and physical candidates. It would have been a more interesting film, in my opinion, if Nikolai was the equal to Royce, perhaps pushing an alternative viewpoint, rather than having Royce as the Only Guy Who Knows What To Do. We also meet our old friend Exposition Guy (Lawrence Fishburne, in basically a cameo) in the middle of the movie, but since the only information he ha to dump is “the Predators want to kill you”, he doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

Incidentally, the filmmakers have stated this movie is a sequel to Predator and Predator 2, but not to the Alien vs. Predator films. Good call, although I would have pretended Predator 2 never existed, too.

So, is it worth seeing? I think so, as long as you know exactly what you are going to be watching. This is a simple movie of dangerous people being chased by alien monster who use advanced technology, just like the first movie, and in that it succeeds just fine. If you want something deeper, you probably wouldn’t choose this one anyway.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

R.I.P. Jean Rollin


French horror auteur Jean Rollin has died at the age of 72, according to Fangoria. It is common to refer to directors as “one of a kind” upon their passing, but Rollin truly was. In films such as Le viol du vampire (Rape of the Vampire), La vampire nue (The Nude Vampire) and my personal favorite La fiancée de Dracula (Fiancée of Dracula), he created a distinctive blend of surrealism and eroticism that will be difficult to match. I’ve watched Fiancée of Dracula three times, and I still don’t know what it’s about, although I like. To quote one of his films: “The person evaporates, but the memory remains.” R.I.P.

Friday, December 10, 2010

So, Ya Wanna Be In Pictures?

Well, you can be. Your name can be, anyway. Greg Bartlett has filmed an adaptation of the short story “Making Friends” by noted horror author Gary Raisor (Less Than Human, Obsessions). Filming is completed, but the filmmakers need to raise $600 by January 5th to finish it. To get the money they are soliciting donations, and donating brings you various goodies, including having your name in the credits. It’s certainly a lot easier than hanging out at Schwab’s drugstore day after day. Depending on the size of the donation, you can also receive a digital download of the film, a dvd, and/or a signed poster. You can view the trailer for the film here, and you can pledge a donation to the film here. I’m planning on doing it, and you might want to check it out, too.
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Southern Gods Sold To Nightshade

Due to extremely light posting of late (I basically took the month of November off from my blog. But now I’ve used up my blog vacation time up, and need to get back to earning big blog bucks. Weak joke completely run into the ground.) I was remiss in not noting one of the more significant events to occur in my circle of friends: the devilishly handsome John Hornor Jacobs sold his novel Southern Gods to Nightshade Books. Big congratulations to John and to his outstanding agent Stacia Decker. Nightshade is a prestigious publisher, and this is really big news, even if I am three weeks behind in saying so.

When this book becomes the success it so deserves to be, will anyone remember one of the earliest positive reviews of it? No, of course not. Prophets are without honor in their own time. Anyway, this is a book you are going to want to read. More details as they emerge.

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R.I.P. John Steakley


The author of Vampire$ and Armor died last Saturday at age 59 of liver disease, according to the Dallas Morning News. He was less than prolific (publishing two novels and four short stories) but the quality of his work gained him an extensive fan base.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Apollo 18 Poster

Looks cool:.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

R.I.P. Ingrid Pitt


Thanks to my friend Jim McLeod, I've learned that horror icon Ingrid Pitt has died. If you are a fan of the Hammer Horror films, Ms. Pitt was the most recognizeable female actress, and her roles in Countess Dracula and The Vampire Lovers, brought Hammer to a new level of eroticism. More details at BBC News.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Posting Has Not Been So Prolix

After the big October push, I slacked off of posting, but I will resume shortly, I promise. Like you care.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Interview With Norman Partridge

My short interview with Norman Partridge is now up at Cemetery Dance's We Interrupt This Author website. Norm is the author of the classic Dark Harvest, and his new book from CD is Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season.

Yeah, Well, Okay

So I took the week to think about it and have decided not to nuke the site. Hold on to your hats, as I'm sure an announcement like this will have a big effect on the stock market.
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dark Tower Movie




Comicbookmovie.com has reported (and Universal has confirmed, the release date for the first film in the series adapting Stephen King's Dark Tower series will be May 17, 2013. This is part of an ambitious undertaking which will have three movies, with seasons of a tv series between them as a bridge, to tell the complete Dark Tower story. Some people are leery of Ron Howard a the creative force behind this; and certainly the movie trilogy/tv series concept is one of the most ambitious gambles in entertainment history.
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Skyline Poster

I don't want to be overly optimistic, but this looks pretty good:



Opening November 12th.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies


Here's something I'm a little late on: Deadite Press has released Bryan Smith's new book Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies. Smith is an author who never disappoints, so this one is worth checking out. You can order it (very cheaply, compared with what books are going for these days) through Amazon.
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Carpenter to Direct Darkchylde


According to Total Film, John Carpenter's next film will be an adaptation of the comic book Darkchylde. I'm not familiar with the comic, but sense I watched The Thing and Halloween last night for Halloween, I'm on a bit of a Carpenter high, and hoping for the best. I wonder if that means he will no longer be directing Fangland?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!


I hope this Halloween will be everything you wanted it to be. I've tried to step up the posting pace to do my little part, and it has been fun. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by. Over the next week or so, I'm going to re-evaluate and see if I want to continue this little site, but either way, it's been a blast!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Scary Goalie Masks

If you are both a horror and hockey fan (like me), for Halloween Sports Illustrated has posted photos of "Scary Goalie Masks." Pretty good stuff. I would guess if you're a Maple Leafs fan, the sight of Vesa Toskala is pretty terrifying, in or out of a mask.
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Friday, October 29, 2010

The Lost Boys: The Thirst


I don’t think you could call it a guilty pleasure, because it was fairly popular, but the 1980s vampire movie The Lost Boys has always been a lot of fun for me, despite a number of campy elements that now seem dated. For years, attempts to produce a sequel to the movie came to naught, but twenty years later, the story continued (sort of) in 2008’s direct-to-video The Lost Boys: The Tribe. Sales were good for the film, and the producers went ahead with this year’s The Lost Boys: The Thirst, which is more of a direct sequel.

Over twenty years have passed since the first movie and the Frog Brothers, Alan (Jamison Newlander) and Edgar (Corey Feldman) have been busy in the vampire-killing business. Things have slowed of late, since Alan became infected with the vampire virus during one of their battles. For some reason that isn’t explained in the film, he doesn’t become the sort of vicious murderer as the other vampires. Maybe it was the Frog steely willpower. Anyway, Edgar is on his own, and is hired by the author of a best-selling series of vampire romances to save her brother, who has been kidnapped by vampires.

It seems the original “alpha” vampire has been holding raves in which a drug called thirst is passed around to the revelers. Thirst is actually vampire blood, and “DJ X” plans to build a vampire army. Edgar leads a decidedly rag-tag group, including a reality TV star (!) into the vampire’s den, to save the brother (who looks uncomfortably like Justin Bieber) and kill the alpha vampire, which will presumably cause all the vampires in his bloodline to revert to normal. There is a fairly illogical ending.

It isn’t the first one, obviously. Feldman is asked to more or less carry the whole movie, and while I’ve never thought he was a terrible actor, his character is written to be fairly one-dimensional and mock-grim, and begins to wear on you. Production values, script and direction are decent, and there isn’t anyone in the movie having as difficult a time with their role as Angus Sutherland in the last installment. Whatever is up Feldman allowing one strand of hair to dangle in his face I have no idea, but he seems to do it in real life as well.

This isn’t as good as the original, but it does have its moments. Pop a lot of popcorn and disengage the logic portion of your brain, and you probably will have a good time with it. I liked it better than the first sequel, for what that’s worth.
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Zombies of Mass Destruction


As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a zombie fan, which puts me out of step with at least 90% of those who watch horror movies or read horror fiction. Nothing against it, it simply seems the sub-genre is exhausted. I always try to watch the After Dark Horrorfest movies though, and with Halloween approaching, decided to give Zombies of Mass Destruction a try. Zombies of Mass Destruction is a member of a sub-sub-genre, the zombedy, or zombie –comedy, best exemplified by Shaun of the Dead, with other successful examples being Zombieland and Hide and Creep.

Port Gamble is a fairly typical small town, albeit one that is fairly isolated by being on an island. Its politics run fairly red-state conservative, and most of the jokes made in the film are political in nature. Don’t worry about watching it if you’re a conservative, since liberals don’t come across all that well, either. As the story starts, a couple of former residents are returning to the island, Frida Abbas, the daughter of a local Iranian-American restaurateur (A running gag is that everyone thinks she’s Iraqi. It isn’t that funny), and Tom, who is accompanied by his boyfriend Lance, coming home to come out as gay to his mother. The outsiderness of the Arab-American Frida and the gay Tom are the source of most of the humor.

Once everyone is on the island, there is a zombie outbreak. Why this happens is never explained, although some think it is a terrorist attack, but an explanation really isn’t necessary. The movie becomes a the usual story of our protagonists trying to escape the cannibalistic walking dead, with the added sideplots of Frida dealing with her survivalist neighbors, who assume she’s responsible, and Tom and Lance having to hole up at a local church that definitely isn’t gay-friendly. This is also for the best, since the zombies here are not just the slow variety, they are ultra slow, and it seems if you pay attention and don’t let them get too close, they don’t pose that much of a threat.

The movie isn’t hilarious, but has some decently funny moments. It’s probably a little too long, since the jokes seem to wear a bit by then, and it didn’t seem the creators could make up their minds as to whether they wanted to descend into complete slapstick or not (it isn’t really that easy to pull someone’s arm off with a yank, for instance). Ever sense Romero did it so well; zombie film makers have tried to use the sub-genre to make social statements, with most of them falling on their faces. This movie does it well enough, though.

It certainly isn’t a terrible movie though, even to a zombie-phobe like me. The script is solid, the direction is good, production values are decent, especially considering the very low budget, and I could find no fault with the acting of the cast of unknowns. If you are the zombie enthusiast type, I imagine you would enjoy it quite well, and it works well enough even if you are not. I think my favorite line was the son asking his father if he was aware of what a zombie bite means, hasn’t he seen zombie movies? The father replies his son should know he’s a vampire man.
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After.Life


Nobody likes to think about it, but most of us will eventually end up on a mortician’s slab, with a stranger submitting our body to various indignities. It is a hallmark of modernity that we have insulated ourselves from the business of death and the disposal of human remains. The unsettling thriller After.Life forces viewers to confront these things, and it may not be for everyone.

Anna (Christina Ricci) and Paul (Justin Long) are dating when a misunderstanding at a restaurant causes Anna to storm out and drive off in a heavy rainstorm. The next thing she knows, she’s awake on a metal table, and Eliot (Liam Neeson) is cleaning a wound on her face. In response to her questions, Eliot tells her she is dead and he is readying her body for a funeral in three days. Apparently, Eliot has a gift which allows him to see and communicate with the recently dead, which he uses to prepare them to transition to the finality of death. Anna has difficulty in believing this, but Paul and her mother are preparing for the funeral, there is a death certificate, and all signs point to her demise.

Paul is suspicious and tries to investigate, but is blocked by Eliot and Anna’s shrewish mother. Anna struggles against Eliot, but more and more of the signs point toward accepting her fate. The movie hinges on discovering what Eliot is really up to. Is he what he says, or simply the world’s cleverest serial killer? Not until the end of the movie do you truly know the answer to that.

The cast is very good. Justin Long is good as the guilt-ridden boyfriend, and Liam Neeson is always outstanding. This is Christina Ricci’s movie, though, and she shines at Anna. It is an uncommonly brave role, unglamorous, with Ricci nude for most of the last half of the movie. If genre films got award recognition, she might be a contender.

After.Life won’t be for everyone. It eschews gore for a truly uncomfortable look at death and dying. If you’re up for it, I’d say give it a try.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Locke & Key Goes To Pilot


According to Deadline, Fox has ordered a pilot based on the comic Locke & Key by Joe Hill. The series is tentatively being looked at for a possible summer run. The comic is excellent, and while network television's record with horror series is spotty at best, I look forward to seeing what they do with this.
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Veronica Lake As A Witch

Another publicity still from the Golden Age of Hollywood:



It Came From Beneath The Sea


It’s always a dicey proposition to revisit well-loved movies from the past. What enthralled you when you were ten may seem tiresome later in life. Sometimes, the movies hold up surprisingly well (see my review of 1933’s The Invisible Man) but often they disappoint, which brings us to today’s entertaining but dated entry, It Came From Beneath the Sea.

A new nuclear submarine on patrol in the Pacific encounters something in deep waters – something which chases them and damages the submarine. Vessels in a Japanese fishing fleet disappear. A merchant marine ship is attacked. Sub Commander Kenneth Tobey (The Thing From Another World) joins with scientists Donald Curtis and Faith Domergue to learn the world is facing the menace of a giant octopus, driven from the unexplored depths of the ocean because it has been irradiated by nuclear testing, and can no longer catch its normal prey. The action culminates with an attack by the creature on San Francisco.

The special effects for the movie were done by the great Ray Harryhausen, and look good enough considering he was working with a miniscule budget. A budget so low, in fact, the octopus has only six arms (you can’t really tell unless you’re looking for it) making it, in fact a sextopus. Sextopus would make a great name for a movie, but I bet you couldn’t sell the DVD at Wal-Mart.

The cast is good. Kenneth Tobey, who was mostly a character actor sometimes appearing as a lead in B-movies, is a likeable hero, Curtis is just off-beat enough to make a good scientist, and Domergue is very pretty. They are hampered by a fairly clunky script with some seriously dated lines (“This is a new breed of woman. She wants to make her own decision.”) and an awful voice-over narration (“Then on a momentous occasion, three people came together.”). Voice-overs rarely work, and they certainly don’t here.

After quite a buildup, the ending of the movie is almost anti-climactic, although there are some heroics as two of our heroes have to get out into wetsuits to stab the beast through the eye. (I would not have volunteered. The submarine looks so cozy compared to swimming with an octopus the size of an aircraft carrier.) Despite a lot of scientific doubletalk, whoever made the movie doesn’t seem to know much about octopi.

It’s still enjoyable on a certain level, with a giant sea creature attacking ships and ravaging a city (at least the part of the city near the bay), and the sort of firm-jawed heroics we found in films back in the 1950s. I’d say keep your expectations low, cough through some of the dialogue and enjoy the movie for what it is.
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Trick 'r' Treat PTSD


A rerun of a post from last Halloween for a Halloween-themed movie:

Here’s a movie that has been long awaited, so long it is almost impossible to live up to its hype. Trick ‘r Treat was originally scheduled to be released in October 2007, then October 2008, finally came out on DVD in October 2009. As I said, nothing could live up to the hype, but this is a pretty good movie for Halloween.

The film occurs on a Halloween night in a small town that takes Halloween very seriously, with a street party, lots of decorations, and almost everyone joining in. This eliminates the South from location consideration. It is an anthology film, consisting of four related stories, although it eschews the traditional let-me-tell-you-a-story chronological order approach. Instead, the four stories interlock, relating to each other in ways big or small, and characters from one thread will pop up in another, either as background or minor players in another storyline. Occasionally, you see the same incident from a different point of view. The stories do not maintain a strict chronological order, so sometimes you see a character pop up after you’ve already seen their death.

There is a really nasty undertone to the town, as apparently, decades before, parents had paid a bus driver to kill all the mentally handicapped children in town out at the old quarry. This sin is the main motivation for two of the stories, and overshadows them all. There are also all the old horror tropes, with a vampire apparently roaming the crowds, werewolves, ghosts/zombies risen from the dead, and Little Red Riding Hood. Interlaced throughout is a small pumpkin-headed figure that grows more malevolent as the movie progresses.

The cast includes Anna Paquin (the X-Men movies, True Blood), Brian Cox (X-Men 2, Manhunter) and Dylan Baker. Known and unknown the cast does a good job with their roles. The direction by Michael Dougherty, who also wrote the screenplay, is also well done.

Probably the best feature of the film is its look. It is beautifully photographed, and really looks like Halloween, from the fog filled quarry to the carved pumpkin strewn streets. It’s not really scary, or wouldn’t be to most, but what is, these days? I think it is sure to please anyone who is a fan of the holiday, and I recommend it to you.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Coppola To Return To Horror?

According to Deadline, Francis Ford Coppola's next movie will be Twixt Now and Sunrise, a thriller with some supernatural elements, starring Val Kilmer as a horror novelist (based on Stephen King, I would guess). Coppola is no stranger to horror; his first movie was Dementia 13, and he also directed the largely disappointing Bram Stoker's Dracula.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Invisible Man


As the 1930s dawned in America, Universal Pictures was on the verge of economic disaster. Never considered one of the big studios on par with MGM or Warner Brothers, they lacked the star power to compete for the entertainment dollars of a public suffering in the midst of the Great Depression. Their salvation was to become the first great studio of American horror pictures, and movies like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy kept them afloat. This meant they were always on the hunt for a new weird property, and some years previously they had acquired the film rights to H. G. Welles classic novel The Invisible Man.

The project was attractive enough to attract the attention of their great auteur, director James Whale, who had already given them Frankenstein and The Old Dark House. In addition to his talent and track record, Whale was a favorite of head of production Carl Laemmle, Jr. which allowed him a great deal of leeway in his films. The chief obstacle to overcome was finding a usable script, and no less than 14 writers had presented treatments, including Preston Sturges, who placed his story in revolutionary Russia, and one where the story took place on Mars. Whales’ chosen author R. C. Sherriff finally discovered the proper approach for the film – to follow Welles original story as closely as possible.

The original choice for the lead was Boris Karloff, Universal's biggest horror star, who had already starred in Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Old Dark House. Karloff, however, was locked in a bit of a contractual dispute with Universal, and either didn’t accept or wasn’t given the role. Whales’ choice Colin Clive was interested in the part, but wanted to return to England to be with his family, and couldn’t do it. After considering a few other candidates, Whale settled on the stage actor Claude Rains, who would make his talking picture debut, reportedly after hearing his impressive voice on what was supposedly a horrible audition tape. Since the main character was invisible, the acting would be mostly done with voice, after all.

The film opens with the arrival of the heavily bandaged Griffin at a public house in the rural English town of Iping, where he rents a room. Griffin alienates the proprietors of the house with his aggressive and violent behavior, and they soon discover that beneath his bandages, Griffin is completely invisible. After being exposed, Griffin terrorizes the small town, and then returns to London. It seems that Griffin was a research chemist who wanted to perfect invisibility to impress the woman he loved, Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), the daughter of his boss Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers). He forces his former co-worker Kemp (William Harrigan) to shelter and assist him, as he alternates between lucidity (searching for a potion to reverse the invisibility) and madness (a grandiose scheme to rule the world). Griffin’s mental state deteriorates and he begins killing people, individually, and en masse, by derailing a train. The country mobilizes to end his reign of terror.

Many movies made at the dawn of the talkie age are hopelessly dated now, but The Invisible Man holds up surprisingly well. Whale was one of the true visionaries of cinema, balancing the grotesque with a campy playfulness. There is some real humor here (My favorite line is when a policeman calls in to his sergeant, tells him he’s encountered an invisible man, and asks what he should do. The sergeant replies “Put more water in next time.”) amid a reasonable amount of chills. The cast is excellent; particularly the great character Rains, even though he is only seen in the final scene. He was one of those actors who made every project in which he appeared better. Look for Walter Brennan, John Carradine and Dwight Frye in small, uncredited roles.

The special effects aren’t that astounding by modern standards, but were fairly cutting edge by the standard of the day, and still do a reasonable job presenting the idea of an invisible protagonist.

The Invisible Man was a huge success in 1933, and helped Universal stave off disaster for a few more years. I think any modern viewer who can watch a film in black and white and put themselves in a mindset three-quarters of a century in the past would still enjoy it.
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Horror Writers Pick Their Movies For Halloween

Over at Norman Partridge's blog American Frankenstein (which you should be reading anyway), he's getting horror writers and editors to pick their movie for Halloween. Cool concept, and click here for the first installment, with picks from Kealan Patrick Burke, Ellen Datlow, and others, with more to follow.
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28 Weeks Later


A comment by Mark Johnson led me to the discovery I've never reprinted my review of 28 Weeks Later (Or at least that I mis-tagged it and can't find it, same thing), so here 'tis.

A terrible disappointment. I enjoyed the original 28 Days Later, which featured a handful of people struggling to survive in an England overcome with the murderous Rage virus. It was exciting, gory, and featured characters for whom you had some empathy. The sequel retains the gore, loses everything else.

WARNING. You should beware of the remainder of this post for two reasons. First of all, it will contain SPOILERS which will reveal almost everything about the movie, so if you don’t want to know, don’t read further. Secondly, I am going to depart from my usual care against profanity, and this will contain words to make your mother faint. If you read it, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here goes.

None of the characters from the first movie return, and the opening occurs concurrently with the events of the first movie. A group of survivors, including Robert Carlyle (who annoys me for reasons I can’t explain) and his wife, are holed up in a farmhouse against the near-mindless monsters their former neighbors have become. RC and wife go on and on about how lucky they are their children are safely in Spain (could this be a PLOT POINT?) although they are supposed to believe things are the same in Europe as England. A McGuffin arrives in the form of a small boy, who pounds at the door for admittance. Against the wishes of a majority of the occupants, RC and wife let him in. He is followed in close order by a horde of Infected, who proceed to break in and gnaw on the luckless inhabitants. They have a prearranged escape route, but wife ignores RC and chases the McGuffin up the stairs, apparently not to strangle him for getting them all killed, but to take him with them. RC follows but is cut off from wife and McGuffin and has to escape alone, ignoring wife’s pleas to stay and die with them. He is the sole survivor, and will feel considerable guilt over this.

Fast forward to 28 Weeks Later, and the event seems almost over. The Infected have all apparently starved to death, and the U.S. Army has invaded and set up a Safe Zone on the Isle of Dogs. All seems to be going well, but the chief medical officer keeps warning everyone that the virus could still be out there (Could this be a PLOT POINT?). Despite being a major in the army and the highest ranking medical type in a plague zone, absolutely no one pays any attention to her whatsoever. There are about 15,000 Britons interned on the I of D, learning how it felt to be a colonial, and an armed U.S. soldier standing guard every three feet, including a sniper and his helicopter pilot buddy, who pass the time by trying to scare each other (Real World tip: When around someone who is armed, don’t startle them. They will shoot you.)

At which time RC’s children are returning from Spain. They are a bitchy 17 year old girl and a 12 year old boy who stole Farrah Fawcett’s hair. Bitchy and Farrah have a joyful reunion with RC, and 30 seconds later, are grilling him on what happened to Mom. “She was eaten, what could I do?” he says, and fake-cries. Who is around to contradict him? Oh, and on the way to their new luxury apartment he demonstrates to the kiddies that, since he is an electrician, he has a card which provides him with access to anywhere on the maximum security base (This could be a PLOT POINT). “I can go places where even the President can’t,” he doesn’t say. The kiddies are warned that they must not leave the compound since England is now filled with rotting corpses and possibly a LETHAL VIRUS. The first night, of course, they decide to sneak out and go back to their old house to get a picture of their mom. They sneak out fairly easily, as the hundreds of soldiers are all looking in the wrong direction, and make it to their home. This is easy, since in the movie England, everything is only a couple of blocks from everything else.

While grabbing the photo and some shoes, Bitchy and Farrah discover their Mom is alive, not quite well and hiding at home, the only survivor in the country. She seems okay, but a little weird and her left eyeball is full of blood. Kiddies and Mom are grabbed by army guys who have had a lapse of reason and decided to go get them.

Back at the base, the kiddies begin to rag RC about Mom. They have leapt to the conclusion that RC abandoned her to die, although there is no way to know this, since she can’t talk. “I would have sworn the old slag was dead,” RC protests, but his whiney kids now hate him, which he seems to regret, although it would be a blessing, if you ask me. Meanwhile, CMO is warning the top General (the great Idris Elba, who deserves better) that Mom is sort of a Typhoid Mary of Rage. Despite a partial genetic immunity, she is plumb full of the virus. “It’s even in her saliva!” CMO marvels (PLOT POINT). General is less than awed and says kill her. CMO argues that her blood could contain the antidote. Kill her, and we don’t need an antidote, the practical General points out. CMO doesn’t seem to realize she could take her blood and kill her, the best of both possible worlds. The genetic immunity, BTW, is traced to Mom having one blue eye and one brown eye, a trait she shares with both kids. This should also mean David Bowie is safe. It also leads to a disconcerting phenomenon, as the three actors whose characters are supposed to share the trait sometimes wear their contacts and sometimes don’t, so their eye color seems to blink on and off.

RC, rejected by his kids, goes to see his wife. He gets in easily, since HE HAS A MAGIC CARD, and because THIS IS THE ONE PLACE LEFT UNGUARDED. That’s right, the only known infected person is the only one in the compound not under guard. He begs her to forgive him, she does, and they engage in some extremely deep open mouthed kissing. At first, the danger all seems to be hers, as RC possesses a very unfortunate dental situation (you just know she’s going to lose an eye), then RC begins to convulse. The virus was in her saliva! RC turns, finishes off wife without any pleas for forgiveness at all, then apparently teleports himself out of the medical area. (Now mindless and unable to use the Magic Card, he still gets past all locked doors) After he chews on a few dozen victims, the compound is being overrun with Infected. Everyone, including CMO, Bitchy, and Farrah, are evacuated into safe, secure areas set up for just this purpose. Inside the containment area, the residents are frightened but safe, until Farrah sees RC at a door, growling, with gore dripping from his mouth. Farrah lets him in, of course, and pandemonium ensues. Everyone escapes and the situation is out of control. CMO keeps telling everyone they must save the two kids, even if it means everyone else’s life, because, apparently, the kids are now the two most annoying people left in the world.

The General, wanting to get this shit over with, orders the army to kill everyone, and the soldier guys open up, including Sniper. He is merrily gunning down the fleeing Britons (after all, they are responsible for American Idol) until he gets Farrah in his sights, and is unable to pull the trigger. He quickly joins CMO in trying to protect the kids. CMO asks why he did this, and he explains that once he saw Farrah, and targeted him/her, he couldn’t go on. I am dumbfounded. I’ve been wanting to kill the little fucker ever since he appeared on screen. (Remember, Farrah is the cause of all this).

There ensues a long chase sequence, in which Sniper calmly guns down his former comrades, while trying to rendezvous with Helo Pilot to escape. CMO keeps telling everyone the kids lives are more important than anyone’s, and I’m beginning to want to kill her, too. Along the way, everyone but the two kids dies, including Sniper and CMO. They are almost done in by poison gas, but fortunately the army uses a type which isn’t harmful if you breathe through cloth. They keep running into RC, who doesn’t need a mind to follow them (England is only two blocks, after all), until Bitchy finally kills him, though not before he infects Farrah. They get to the helicopter, and Helo Pilot flies them to Europe, where, in a postscript, we learn that Farrah has infected the entire fucking continent. The End.

To have a successful movie that consists of people fleeing peril, you need at least one or two you don’t want to see die. By the mid-point of the movie, I was rooting for the zombies. My recommendation is to avoid 28 Weeks Later like the plague.
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THE MUMMY STALKS MY DREAMS

My friend Rabid Fox of the outstanding website Wag The Fox is hosting Monster Week in the week leading up to Halloween, and he has invited others to write about selected monsters. After surprisingly little thought, I decided on the following choice.

As a young child, I was a big fan of the classic monsters. (As an old child, I still am.) Vampires, werewolves and the like did it for me just like for anybody else, but the one that gave me nightmares was one usually far down on the scare list: The Mummy. Sure, there’s a bit of lameness about being chased by a creature with a crippled arm dragging a foot slowly behind it – just pick up your pace and you’ll get away – but there was something chilling about the Mummy’s inexorable single-mindedness about catching you and strangling you. Part of the creepiness was the silent, fixed concentration, I suppose.

The Mummy as a movie icon got its start on the Universal lot (there were earlier mummy movies, but they are dimly remembered today). In the early 1930s, Universal had enjoyed great success with Dracula and Frankenstein, and wanted a new creature for their Gothic stable. After the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, the public had been fascinated with mummies –the mummy craze became a bit of a fad in the 1920s - so a walking, reanimated mummy seemed a logical choice. Boris Karloff, who had become a star in Frankenstein was chosen for the title role (billed as “Karloff the Uncanny”) and Karl Freund, who operated the camera on Dracula, was hired to direct, and in 1932, movie audiences shuddered as The Mummy arrived at the local theater.

Those who haven’t seen the original movie before are usually surprised at how little time (only a couple of minutes) Karloff appears in makeup as the mummy Imhotep in the original film. After arising from his sarcophagus, he quickly sheds his bandages, and appears for the rest of the movie as a wrinkled old man with some evil psychic powers. You can hardly blame him for wanting to shed those dusty duds, and it must have been a relief for Karloff himself, as the application and removal of Jack Pierce’s makeup was a tedious and painful process. In truth, the plot is closer to Dracula than the shambling Mummy with which we are familiar.

Their horror movies were the cash cow that saved the studio during rough times, and Universal quickly produced sequels to their scary properties – but not the poor Mummy. He languished without heir until The Mummy’s Hand in 1940, which was more of a remake than a sequel. In The Mummy's Hand, the Mummy is now the familiar gauze-wrapped stalker we now recognize, and instead of the high priest Imhotep the mummy is now Kharis, who was more of a flunky back in the day. The mummy here is a more-or-less zombie (years before the zombie craze) covered in filthy bandages. He is also shown as something of a tool, rather than the true evil, as the mummy is controlled by a series of masters, using the new plot device, tana leaves. The Mummy Kharis was popular enough with audiences he was brought back in the sequels The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse. In contrast with the higher budget Karloff’s version, these are strictly B-movies, done quickly and cheaply. Although the movies follow one another sequentially, the timeline is muddied, and if you watch them in order, you will be amused to see Kharis sink into quicksand in Massachusetts at the end of The Mummy’s Ghost, and emerge from it in Louisiana in The Mummy’s Curse. After the third sequel, the series ran out of steam, and with the exception of his appearance in Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, that was the end of the character in Universal’s golden age. It is worth noting that while all the monsters of Universal were brought together in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, the poor Mummy was left out, a sort of bandaged step-child, if you will.

In the late 50s, the English studio Hammer had great success in reviving the Universal Monsters, maintaining just enough differences to avoid being sued. In 1959, they loosely remade The Mummy’s Hand as simply The Mummy, with Christopher Lee as Kharis. They would produce three more Mummy movies – The Curse of The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Shroud and Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb – in the 60s and 70s, but they were all unrelated, and for the most part, inferior.

In 1999, Universal Studios reclaimed the character, with the third film to be titled The Mummy, a throwback to the Karloff original, with the Mummy named Imhotep and, as played by Arnold Vosloo, rarely seen looking like anything but a man, just as in the Karloff version. The movie played as something like Indiana Jones Meets the Mummy, and was savaged by critics, although quite a success at the box-office, good enough to spawn two sequels of steadily declining value, The Mummy Returns and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. A third sequel is said to be in the works.

So keep your pale Counts with their eyes fixed on your neck, and your hairy werewolves snarling for a meal. I hear shambling footsteps approaching down the hall, and the patter of grave-dust falling to the floor. I must go now, or else I will surely -
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Friday, October 22, 2010

New Ronald Kelly Digital Collection

Crossroad Press has released a new Ronald Kelly short story collection in digital format. It is called Dark Dixie II: Tales of Southern Horror, and you can order it at their website. As a special offer, you can get it and the digital version of Hell Hollow for just $6.99. That's too great a deal to pass up!
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Page Horrific

The indefatigable David T. Wilbanks has started a new blog of horror reviews called Page Horrific. He’s going to have a number of reviewers on board, so there should be plenty of content. Dave is one of the good guys, so please check it out.
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Scary Football Pumpkin

Here in Alabama, college football is a religion. Usually it's focused on the University of Alabama, but this year Auburn is undefeated. In honor of that team, and its star quarterback Cam Newton, an Auburn fan carved this pumpkin:




That's very eerie looking, and I hope that was the intent. As far as the slogan "Yes, we Cam" goes:

The Reverend's Powder


A new chapbook from Sideshow Press, Erik Williams’ novella “The Reverend’s Powder” is a strong story of faith and the lack of it, and of revenge and the consequences that come with it.

Matthew isn’t a man of strong faith, but his sister Laura has embraced it, possibly due to her incurable cancer. She is dying, and with medical hope exhausted, has turned to spiritual cures. The Reverend Simms is a faith healer, who has built a successful ministry by healing the sick of all manner of ailments, saying that at least some of them are the result of demons that can be cast out of the body. Matthew goes with Laura to the Reverend’s revival despite his doubts. She receives a respite from her pain, but this turns out to be temporary and with tragic after-effects. Matthew is consumed with anger at the Reverend, and decides to take revenge.

Most writers today would have written this as a you-wronged-me-and-I-get-even revenge story, but Williams takes a much more nuanced approach, and examines whether the aggrieved Matthew is truly justified in treating the Reverend as he treated others, and what he will have to live with as he does so. I found the writing smooth and assured, and the story was too compelling to pause. I look forward to seeing more from Mr. Williams in the future, perhaps in a longer form.

“The Reverend’s Powder” is available from Sideshow Press as part of their Chapbook Series.

I can’t say I’m crazy about the cover art, but such things are subjective, and the story is more important to me than the cover.

A personal note: many years ago I was living in Birmingham, Alabama when a prominent national evangelist and faith healer came to town. During his show, he accidentally broke a woman’s neck. Because he was a “man of God”, no criminal charges were filed, and no lawyer was willing to bring a civil case.
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A Halloween Costume Suggestion


So, we’ve had our first anti-Halloween letter to the editor of our local newspaper (what’s left of The Huntsville Times). A writer named Vic Veritas (That doesn’t sound fake at all. Stan Lee would be proud) in the paper today decries the anti-Christian nature of the pagan holiday, and suggests children dress as saints instead of the various “Satanic” costumes they use. For anyone who is Catholic or has studied the lives of the Saints, the martyrdom of the various saints is some of the grisliest material you’d ever encounter. I suggest going as Saint Sebastian. Pictured at right is Vahan Bego’s painting of the event.* Kids, strip down to your underwear, attach some fake arrows and splash on some blood, and you’ve got the look.

Veritas isn’t real, of course. This letter has been popping up in newspapers everywhere, with the same name purporting to be a local. Here is a link to the letter in the Virgin Islands Daily News, and here it is in the Pasadena Star-News. The Huntsville Times is only up to October 4th with their on-line Letters to the Editor.

* The image of St. Sebastian pierced by the arrows is probably the most famous image of martyrdom, but did you know it isn’t how he died? Sebastian recovered from the arrows, and later died from being clubbed to death. That is more factual, less artistic.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Usher's Passing


Told you there would be more…

One of Edgar Allan Poe’s most memorable stories was “The Fall of the House of Usher”, a story of the end of a decadent family. In 1984, Robert R. McCammon (Mystery Walk, The Night Boat, They Thirst), a fan of the story wrote a “sequel” to the story called Usher’s Passing, which continued the Usher story into the modern day. Lately, I’ve felt a great dissatisfaction with what has been published of late, and have found better results in revisiting past classics.

In McCammon’s version, the events of Poe’s story were true, but the cataclysm at the end did not end the Usher line. The doomed Roderick Usher had a brother, Hudson, who continued the name, as well as the family business, which is munitions. In the 1980s, the family is ruled by patriarch Walen Usher from the vast family estate Usherland in rural North Carolina. Walen has three children: Boone, a dissolute libertine with a cruel streak, Kattrina, a beautiful model with a drug habit, and Rix, a tortured horror novelist (!) trying to break free of the family name and legacy. Like all members of their family, they suffer from Usher’s Malady, a transient hyper-acuteness of the senses, which can be incapacitating, and ultimately kills them. It is Walen’s time to go, and as he lies dying, his children gather, partly to see who will run the family after him.

The North Carolina woods around Usherland are a dangerous place. Children go missing, taken at harvest time by the Pumpkin Man, and Greediguts, a giant panther that walks on two legs with a tail like a rattlesnake stalks the night. Nearby Briartop is the former home of coven of witches, and the empty (of humans) Usher Lodge is a trap to the unwary. Rix, the black sheep (or, maybe, in this case the white sheep) of the family, tries to discover the secrets of his family and his evil ancestors, and in so doing, learns just what is going on with the strange events in the area. He will not like what he finds, and it all comes to a head at Halloween.

This was McCammon’s sixth published novel, and the second after he found his true voice (McCammon has been famously ambivalent about his first four books, although I think they are just fine.). With the Pumpkin Man, Greediguts, witches, and other supernatural elements, there would seem to be too much going on for one novel, but McCammon has the talent to handle it. As always, he does a good job of bringing the characters to life, and essentially updating the Poe story to the modern age. There are many other allusions to the works of Poe (“The Bells”, “The Raven”, “A Cask of Amontillado” and others) for those who are interested in such things.

McCammon was probably second only to Stephen King among horror writers in the 1980s, his name fading a bit in the consciousness of horror readers after he took a decade off from writing. The best of his work, and Usher’s Passing is in the upper tier, probably just a little lower than Swan Song or Boy’s Life, easily trumps almost anything being published today (at his worst, he is at least the equal of recent output). Usher’s Passing has not lost any of its strength, and is an excellent novel to read at Halloween (or any other time.)
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1960)


Back in 1960, Jams H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff of American International Pictures (AIP) wanted to produce gothic films to cash in on the success Hammer Films was having with their reworking of classic horror tales. Hammer had used the work of British authors like Bram Stoker (well, Irish, actually) and Mary Shelley for their English productions, and AIP would use the American author Edgar Allan Poe as the basis for their films. They began with The Fall of the House of Usher, to be produced and directed by the legendary low-budget maestro, Roger Corman. In contrast to Corman’s ultra-cheap earlier films, Usher would be shot in color and on a budget of $200,000, still cheap but gigantic compared to what Corman was used to working with. The movie would star established Hollywood actor Vincent Price, then seen as on the decline, and would be adapted by Richard Matheson.

Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) rides from Boston to visit his fiancée, Madeleine Usher (Myrna Fahey) at her family estate. It is a creepy place, with the vegetation dead for miles around, and the dark mansion itself beginning to crumble. Despite the best efforts of the servant Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) to dissuade him from seeing Madeleine, he insists, and is confronted by her brother, Roderick Usher (Price). Usher reveals to Winthrop that he suffers from a condition passed down through his family, wherein he is extremely sensitive to all outward stimuli, light, sound, smell, taste, touch. (There is a problem faced by the filmmakers in that Roderick can’t stand bright light, so most scenes should take place in near darkness. As this would mean the audience couldn’t see what was going on, the actors just say it’s dark.) Roderick tells Winthrop Madeleine is also cursed, and will get the affliction and go mad. He also tells of the depravity of his ancestors and his belief the house itself is cursed and the cause of the evil. (An argument can be made this is more reflective of Usher’s own madness than the truth.)

Roderick wants Winthrop to leave without Madeleine, as he wants to end the polluted Usher blood line. When he refuses, Roderick fakes Madeleine’s death, and has her buried alive. This is not the end of things, as the premature burial (a recurrent theme for Poe) drives Madeleine around the bend, and she breaks free to get revenge on her brother. As you may guess from the title, the house falls.

The movie was a success beyond AIP’s imagination. According to figures from MGM, it was one of the five highest grossing films of 1960, and amazing achievement. Corman and AIP would collaborate on seven more Poe adaptations, although they never equaled the success of this one, and Vincent Price would become a horror icon for the rest of his life. Fifty years later, how does the movie hold up?

First of all, despite the rather opulent budget for AIP, the cheapness of the production does show through. Boy, those sets really look like…sets. For modern audiences, the film is a bit slow starting, as not much happens other than dialogue for more than the first half of the movie. (There are also only four speaking parts, which I’m sure helped keep costs down.) Winthrop is, well, a bit of a wimp. When he learns his true love has been sealed alive in a hidden coffin, he emotionally vows to find and save her, but after about twenty seconds of energetic searching, he quits and takes a nap. Not exactly a stirring tale of sacrifice for love.

Still, the source material is good, the screenwriter is a legend, the acting is high quality (especially Price) and Corman’s direction under-rated. It might be too cheesy for modern audiences wanting spilled brains every five minutes, but if you are into the old gothic horror flicks, you should enjoy it. Note: in some releases, it is simply called House of Usher, I suppose to not give away the ending.

A personal note: I first saw this movie when I was a freshman in college, shown at Halloween on a double bill with The Premature Burial. (They were already old movies at the time. I’m not that old.) Sitting by myself next to a very attractive young woman who had also come alone, I received a horror movie reward when she grabbed me and practically jumped into my lap, where she stayed through the double feature. It was a very pleasant experience for an 18-year-old, as I got as far as you would expect on the third date in those days, and one of the reasons young men have been taking their dates to horror films since they’ve been around. To illustrate how sauve I was with the ladies, when the lights went up, I neglected to ask for her name or phone number, figuring I would see her around campus and be able to strike up a conversation on our shared experience. I never saw her again.

More Usher to come…
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Some Over-Looked (Maybe) Horror Films PTSD

Another repeat, here is a list of movies that I feel are somewhat overlooked, yet deserving of a look. This reflects only my own opinion, of course. The movies are in no particular order. Not exactly sure how I chose The Thing as being over-looked, but I do live in meth country, so maybe I had a problem I don't remember.

Stir Of Echoes (1999) – This came out a month after The Sixth Sense, and suffered at the box office due to its similar theme, but I think it is better. Kevin Bacon is especially good.

From Beyond (1986) – The true follow-up to Re-Animator, this features most of the same cast and crew.

Frailty (2001) – Really creepy movie that turns out not to be what you expected.

The Uninvited (1944) – Nice ghost story set in Cornwall. Somewhat hard to find.

Anatomie (2000) – German movie with Franke Potente about fiendish goings-on in a medical school. One inferior sequel.

Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, 1994) – A very odd Italian zombie movie with Rupert Everett. The zombies are more of a plot device to examine the human condition.

Ginger Snaps (2000) - A Canadian film using lycanthropy as a metaphor for female puberty (It’s much better than that description sounds). A sequel and a prequel, both decent.

The Thing (1982) – Probably not really overlooked any more, included here because it was such an enormous box-office bomb on its release. My favorite horror film, I saw it when it came out at the theater as a double-bill with Annie, possibly the strangest double bill in history.

Ravenous (1999) – Guy Pearce deals with cannibalism in the Old West.

The Ninth Configuration (1980) - Directed by William Peter Blatty from his novel Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane, this is one of the all-time great American movies, even though few have seen it. A surrealistic drama set in a Vietnam-era military insane asylum. Considered by the author to be the true sequel to The Exorcist (there is a key character shared by the two stories).

Deep Rising (1998) – A lot of people hate this because they hate Stephen Sommers, but how can a movie about sea monsters be bad?
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Replay For Ben Affleck



According to a story on Deadline, Ben Affleck is considering an adaptation of Ken Grimwood's novel Replay as his next project. It's the story of a man who relives his life over and over, in steadily decreasing increments, and is a book I loved, so I'm stocked at the possibilities. I know it's fashionable to hate on Affleck*, but I've always found him a more-than-competent actor, and with Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town, an excellent director. Fingers crossed.

* I thought Affleck was the best of the three Jack Ryans, for his performance in The Sum Of All Fears. Yes , I know I'm in the minority. Liev Schrieber killed in that movie, too.
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Betty Grable at Halloween

Monday, October 18, 2010

Trackman


I have a tendency to buy sets of horror films when they are released on home video, picking out the ones I really want to see and watching them, then consigning the rest to the purgatory of the “To Be Watched” pile, where they languish for years. This and other bad habits have created a huge, unmanageable pile in the corner of the media room. This year, with the Halloween season upon us, I decided to try to pare down the pile a little by watching some of these neglected horror films, and last night it was the 2007 Russian movie Trackman, from the Ghost House Underground series.

Two guys name Kostya and Splint plan a bank robbery in Moscow. Kostya will recruit two other guys, they will rob the bank, then meet Splint in the tunnels under the city for the getaway. Not a bad plan, but Kostya turns out to be a little too hot-headed and unstable, and kills two policemen inside the bank. The trio grab another cop and two women to use as hostages, and make their way to the tunnels for the big escape, now with a lot more heat on them.

In the tunnels, Kostya, who is quite the jerk, taunts the hostages with stories of a killer haunting the underground. According to him, survivors of Chernobyl were brought there to be treated, and they all died, except one who escaped and now lurks waiting to kill anyone who ventures into his domain. This doesn’t seem quite so funny as the group is soon lost and being stalked by a large figure with a penchant of killing people and removing their eyes (not always in that order) for souvenirs. The eyeball removal provides the majority of the movie’s gore. The group also begins to break down over internal conflicts, the way they always do.

The movie is somewhat predictable, and the characters are more or less stereotypes, differing from American movies of this type only by the language. It is competently done, and while not thrilling, isn’t terrible, either. It has the virtue of being short (80 minutes) although it does drag in some places, and you get a little tired of the tunnel milieu. If you think this sounds good, it will probably be passable.

I watched the movie in Russian with English subtitles, since I generally hate dubbing. Way back in college I studied Russian, and became moderately proficient at it, but haven’t used that knowledge in years. It was a little depressing how difficult it was for me to follow the dialogue, and how heavily I depended on the subtitles. Such is life.
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pig Hunt


After being generally pleased with Dark House, I was interested to see if the other movies in this year’s Fangoria Frightfest series held up also. Maybe I’m getting soft, or I’ve been so pummeled by the amateurish movies I’ve watched, but I was pleasantly surprised by the 2008 film Pig Hunt as well. It isn’t high art, but I had a good enough time with it.

Four friends from San Francisco (and one girlfriend) go on a hunting trip in rural northern California, looking for wild boar, on some property one of them inherited from a dead uncle. This seems a bit improbable, as no one in the group, with the exception of the legatee, knows anything about hunting, but I suppose people do stupid things. Once they reach the hunting grounds, they run into some rednecks (Who speak with Southern accents, of course, despite the NoCal location. This is universal, for some reason, and I guess if you made a movie set in rural China, the characters would speak Cantonese with an Arkansas twang.) who tell them stories of the Ripper, a giant man-killing hog, and join their hunting party, despite deep animosity between them and the former local, who seems to be an old friend and possibly a relative.

The hunt goes badly (What do you expect?) when they run into some murderous hippies using the area for growing marijuana (northern California is the center of illegal marijuana production in the United States), and one of the friends kills one of the rednecks. Soon the city-slickers are on the run from both the hillbillies and the flower children, who seem to worship Hawgzilla as a God.

The characters, for the most part, are the sort who are so blindly stupid you can’t understand how they’ve lived as long as they have. All the hunters get drunk and/or stoned before the hunt, which is not the greatest of ideas, and are pretty casual about accidentally pointing loaded guns at each other. (The scene where the lead goes to investigate a noise in the bush while everyone else points their guns at his back is unintentionally funny.) They are also the type who absolutely cannot keep their mouths shut. Contrary to popular belief, animals are not deaf, and can hear people talking in loud voices. This also comes into play when the crew is trying to hide from human pursuers, and can’t stop with the OH MY GOD I HOPE THEY DON’T FIND US dialogue. Stay quiet, and stay still and you might live. You’ve also got to wonder about someone who brings his pet dog on a wild boar hunt, which I can’t imagine someone doing unless they really hate their dog.

You might also scratch your head about just how vicious hippies would be after spending all their time smoking incredibly potent weed, but hey, maybe it’s a variety Mary Louise Parker doesn’t sell.

For all that, I thought the movie wasn’t half bad. The acting was pretty good; although there was no one in the cast I recognized other than Primus bassist Les Claypool, who also did the music. The direction was more than adequate, and the script was solid if you buy into the basic concept. There are in-jokes about other movies in the dialogue, including a sly one concerning the under-rated movie Southern Comfort, if I’m reading the saucier comment right.

In the making-of feature, the director and writer talk about the movie being a metaphor for our desire to kill, the war in Iraq, religious extremism, etc., but I think you can ignore that. It’s a movie about people on the run from murderous rednecks, killer hippies, and a giant hog, and it should content itself with that. People who are squeamish about animals getting hurt and killed might have a few problems with it.

If the basic premise interests you, pop some popcorn, put your feet up, place your brain in “Idle” and put in this DVD. You could do worse than go on the Pig Hunt.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

10 Movies For Halloween PTSD


A repeat of a classic (well, by my weak standards) post.

Halloween season is upon us . Since it falls on a weekend this year, you’ve rented an old dark house way back in the woods for you and your friends to hold a weekend retreat. You’ve gone to the trouble of lugging in that enormous 180 inch plasma screen TV, now you need some fright flicks to show your guests. That’s why you are here. Here are ten recommendations for that spooky weekend which will get even with those who have tormented you entertain your loved ones.

Usual disclaimers: This is not a ten best, they are presented in no particular order, the opinions are my own, gimme a break. Spoilers may appear, so you’ve been warned. You know it’s one of my stupid lists because there’s an exclamation point in the title.

1. The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter’s ice-bound gory paranoia masterpiece is perfect to watch with a large crowd of friends, particularly on a cold night. For added fun, once the tension mounts, excuse yourself briefly, and come back with a glassy expression and project a sense that there is something wrong. Your friends won’t know whether to sit next to you or hose you down with a flamethrower. If it is the second option, you don’t need the rest of the list.

2. The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Hype drove the movie to an amazing box office, and is also responsible for a considerable backlash. Putting all that aside, it remains a creepy, effective little low budget film that works well with a small group of friends watching with the lights out. For an added bonus, you’ll get conversation afterwards, as you try to figure out what the ending meant.

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968) – The one that started the zombie craze, it is constantly imitated, never surpassed. You’ll have to ask those friends that won’t watch a black & white movie to wait outside.

4. The Mist (2007) – You’re isolated with those so-called friends of yours, so this movie about people isolated by hideous creatures should hit home. You don’t have to wait until the weatherman reports heavy fog rolling in, but it would be a nice touch. Be prepared for a lot of bitching about the ending, though.

5. R-Point (2004) – You probably have at least one cineaste in your circle of friends, and they always insist that movies with subtitles are better, so show them this Korean ghost story set in the Vietnam War.

6. Re-Animator (1985) – It’s nice to include at least one romantic film for the ladies.

7. 30 Days of Night (2007) – There’s also going to be at least one Twilight fan in the group. Show them this one so they will know what Edward looks like when he’s not primping for the cameras.

8. Evil Dead 2 (1987) – For a little comedy mixed with the horror, this innovative film is essentially the first Evil Dead remade with a bigger budget.

9. The Call of Cthulhu (2005) – Remember those friends who pitched a fit and stood in the hallway during #3 because it was in black & white? Gig them again with this one, in black & white and silent to boot.

10. Halloween (1978) – You didn’t think I was going to skip this one, did you? John Carpenter’s second film on the list set the template for a thousand inferior imitations to follow. It goes without saying, watch this one on Halloween night.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Last Voyage of Demeter


According to Empire Online, Noomi Rapace, whoc became an international sensation for her performance in the title role of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels, has been cast in the upcoming film The Last Voyage of Demeter. If you recall, the Demeter is the ill-fated ship which transported Dracula to England in Bram Stoker's novel. The book doesn't go into details on the trip, just that it arrives with no one on board alive, and the captain's body lashed to the wheel. The movie will fill in the blanks as to what happened on board the doomed vessel, but it would seem it will struggle with the curse of the sequel: we already know how it ends, thus lessening the suspense. Still, it could be interesting. The movie will be directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky.
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Del Toro: Lovecraft Yes, Godzilla No


In an article on HitFix, Guillermo del Toro squashes rumors that he will be involved in the upcoming re-launch of Godzilla. That might be bad news for the fans of the giant Japanese monster, but good news for those of us who have wanted the Hellboy director to tackle his dream project for years.
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Animals


You may recall my assertion there aren’t that many great werewolf movies. Today we have another contender, the 2008 film Animals. Will it crack my all-time list?

Jarrett (Marc Blucas, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is a former football star who had his dreams crushed by a knee injury, forcing him to return to his hometown, Clayton Valley. There he works in construction for an overbearing boss and forgets his troubles each night at his friend’s bar. Vic (Naveen Andrews) and Nora (Nicki Aycox) are two transients, moving around the country by car. Nora wants to escape from Vic, but he always tracks her down.

As you can probably guess, Vic is a werewolf, and Nora is infected as well. She manages to elude him and ends up in dear old Clayton Valley, where she sees Jarrett as a possible protector. She seduces him, and passes the infection along in hopes he will be able to stand up to Vic. Doing so will bring tragedy to Jarrett’s little town, but Nora isn’t exactly your hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold type.

There’s not a lot to be said about the story, as it is pretty straightforward. Nora Infects Jarrett, Jarrett fights Vic and loses, Jarrett fights Vic again. You know have a couple outline of the plot.

The acting is decent, with the main cast plus Eva Amurri as Jarrett’s waitress friend who pines for him doing the best they can with the material. The direction is somewhat competent, although the director (or editor) uses jump cuts at odd and meaningless times, as well as peculiar slow motion, and the movie looks as if the entire thing was shot with inadequate lighting, though not as dark as some of the disasters I’ve seen. There is a great emphasis on sex, and some of the scenes seem to be going for a Cinemax-type appeal. If these were the only flaws, the movie might be a decent way to pass an evening if expectations were low.

However, the movie contains maybe the worst CGI I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a lot of SyFy channel movies. The werewolves look more horse-like than wolf-like, glow, and are cartoonish. If you are old enough to remember games on the Atari 2600, you’ve seen much better animation there. Also, except for color variations, all the werewolves are identical after the change, so when they fight, you don’t know who is biting who.

Perhaps the final word on the film is the director Douglas Aarniokoski didn’t want his name on the film. He used the alias Arnold Cassius instead.
Animals is based on the final book written by the legendary splatterpunk writing team of John Skipp and Craig Spector, and adapted for the screen by Spector. Skipp and Spector produced some really good books, but, in my opinion, there was a decline in quality toward the end, and Animals was not one of their better ones.

You should see this if you have an overwhelming desire to see Nicki Aycox naked. Otherwise, spare yourself the lame CGI and give it a miss. I don’t think it’s worth it. Also, be forewarned: other than the names of the cast, the DVD cover has nothing to do with the movie inside.
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