Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Halloween Means To Me '14 Day 1: Laurence Harvey

Feel that chill in the air?  See the bonfires burning bright and pumpkin faces in the night?  Smell the greasepaint and fog juice?  That's right folks, Halloween is right around the corner.  You know what that means around these parts... it's time for the third annual What Halloween Means To Me countdown.  Every day until the 31st, I'll be bringing you personal recollections and musings on the happiest, horrificest (shut up, it is too a word) holiday by your favorite genre celebrities, the best online horror media personalities, and my horror homies.  Let's start this party off with a bang, shall we?
Today's entry comes from the man responsible for one of the creepiest horror villains of the last decade (at least).  As Martin Lomax in Human Centipede 2, Laurence Harvey made your skin crawl and chilled you to the very core.  Through talking to him at various Days of the Dead conventions, however, I discovered that Mr. Harvey is an awesome guy.  I've been trying to get him on the countdown since last year, and the stars finally aligned for him to offer his thoughts.  So, today we're gonna spice things up with a little international flair and learn how one beloved family movie changed Halloween forever.  Laurence, what does Halloween mean to you?

"Nowadays, Halloween means work. Being booked into conventions, film festival appearances, being asked to attend screenings, appear with bands, etc. Even if the months on either side of Oct 31st are barren, work-free deserts, I know that the end of October will be busy even in the years to come. I’m now used to the costumes and pumpkins that make-up the traditional US celebrations, but it wasn’t always so…
I grew up as a child of the 70’s, and it was interesting to see the changes wrought upon British society by one film and the envy felt by every child in Britain for the child protagonists of this 1982 release. Yes we were all jealous of E.T.’s Elliot and his friends and siblings. Whilst he may have had an extraterrestrial in the closet, it was the way the adults in their life indulged them in the carnevalesque spectacle of begging that was ‘trick or treat’. All the masks and costumes seemed to spring from the back pages of Fangoria.  These were quality latex items, not dodgy knock-offs from Woolies.  And they were going from door-to-door in expectation AND ACTUALLY GETTING FREE STUFF!!! What madness was this? I know it was only a movie, but such culturally inbred generosity seemed alien to this Northern lad whose neighbours would probably just close the door with a firm “No thank you, none today” and the kind of warm greeting usually reserved for Jehova’s Witnesses and gypsy knife-sharpers. How my 12-year-old self scoffed at such sheer fantasy!
Noooo. Growing up in the UK, our Halloweens were more in touch with the country’s pagan roots as part of a tryptich of festive nights culminating in Bonfire Night on the 5th November. Mischief Night often tended to occur the night before Halloween. It was a time for children to play pranks and make nuisances of themselves. This ‘mischief’ would range from ‘tap-and-go-run’ through to arson, vandalism and joy-riding. The exact date of Mischief Night could vary from town to town, region to region, or (as in Appley Bridge where I grew up) not really happen at all (although I doubt that it was because we were all too well behaved).
I should also explain (for the colonial audience) that Bonfire Night, five days after Halloween, is a celebration of James I surviving a catholic plot to blow up Parliament (with him in it). So now the tradition is to build bonfires around the country upon which to burn effigies of Guy (Guido) Fawkes - the most famous of the plotters (yes, even if you are a Catholic)- and set off fireworks. The festivity has lost most of its sectarian overtones, although some places in the UK burn effigies of the Pope, the US president, or other current hate-figures (including an effigy of a caravan of Gypsies, including ‘children’ at the windows, in one particularly outrageous incident of recent years). Anyway, for most people today Bonfire Night involves attending a ‘Health & Safety’ approved organized firework display and bonfire whilst standing around eating toffee apples, treacle toffee, parkin (a treacle-based sponge cake often eaten with butter/spread). But Halloween…. Halloween was always a combination of media-driven celebration of horror (readings of the Robbie Burns poems Halloween and Tam O’Shanter,  TV channels cramming their schedules with Halloween-themed programs, a chance to dust off a couple of old Hammer/Universal/Amicus films, and radio stations vying with one another how many times they could play The Monster Mash in a single day) and hang-over from the pagan festival of Samhain.
As I said above, before E.T. there was no such thing as ‘trick or treat.’ Children only got dressed up as ghosts and ghouls if they were going to a fancy dress party. It wasn’t until E.T. explained the notion of ‘going trick-or-treating’ that I realised the improbably rich kids on US TV sitcoms probably weren’t heading off to preternaturally urbane soirees peopled by similarly privileged kids in their expensive costumes.  No, they were leaving their improbably huge apartments overlooking Central Park in order to beg from their neighbours and doormen. At least E.T. showed working/lower middle-class kids going out and explained the notion of ‘trick or treat’.
We’d watch TV, play games, and maybe go out to a fancy-dress party (although very few people bothered to do more than don a cardboard mask). I remember one such party when my sister and I went with our friends next door to their grandmother’s house. As a child I lived in Skelmersdale before moving to Appley Bridge/Wigan, and our neighbours were similarly from Skelmersdale (or Skem). Skem was a newtown built in Lancashire for the overflow population of Liverpool. The neighbours’ grandma was a tough, hardy woman who fostered children and made a big fuss of events like Halloween. When we arrived, it was exciting; all these strangers, the house decorated with Silly-string cobwebs and cardboard skeletons hanging from the door, rubber bats swinging from the ceiling. We’d brought along the lanterns we’d made by hollowing out small turnips (yes, that’s what Halloween lanterns are traditionally made from here), carving a devilish grin in them, and placing a thick candle stub inside. We put them on the mantelpiece alongside the others people had brought. There were decorated cakes, Dracula ice lollies (black with a red raspberry centre), bowls of Monster Munch (over-sized corn-snacks in the shape of clawed feet), gummi snakes, and gingerbread in the shape of vampire bats. The place was full with us, the grandma’s current foster children, and teenagers that she had fostered in their earlier childhood. Other than masks and horror-themed T-shirts, I can only remember one person in fancy dress. They were wrapped in rolls of toilet paper as some sort of Kleenex-sponsered ‘Mummy’. There was music – The Monster Mash (of course), The Addams Family theme tune, The Big Purple People Eater, etc. And then the games!
The games were traditional Oct 31st fare. Ducky Apple in which apples were placed in a bowl of water, and the person whose turn it was would, blindfolded and with  hands tied behind them, bend over the bowl and try to take one of the apples using only their mouth. Obviously this would involve dunking one’s head in the water, so someone would have a towel to hand. Similarly, there was Bobby Apple (it WAS Skem after all, most people had a scouse accent, so most nouns had a ‘-y’ added to the end of them) where the player (similarly hindered as in Ducky Apple) had to eat an apple dangling from the ceiling on a length of string down to its core, without using their hands. Obviously this was all before ’50 Shades of Grey’ came out, so no-one saw anything kinky about blindfolding and binding children. Both games also seemed to harken back to the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages; dunking the suspected witch in water to see if she drowned (if so she was innocent, and dead) and hanging being punishments for those found guilty of witchcraft. I’m not sure that there was a ‘tying an apple to a wooden stick and burning it’ game, but who knows?  It may well be the origin of ‘toffee apples’ and their crispy hard candy shells.
Things didn’t immediately change with the release of E.T., but by a couple of Halloweens later  there were teenagers out in twos and threes going around (not in fancy dress, just hoodies and shell suits) knocking on doors ‘trick or treating’, and year by year it gradually became more enmeshed in British culture (as legislation around safety and fireworks tightened, restricting the celebrations of Bonfire Night). And now, we’re all expected to stock up on sweets and chocolates to have in a container by the door as mums and dads walking their children around the neighbourhood begging."

 30 days 'til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. 30 days 'til Halloween, Silver Shamrock!

Horror Business Episode 7: James Bickert

We're back with a special 90 minute episode of Horror Business featuring my interview with director/drive-in historian James Bickert. We're talking Dear God No!, Drive-Invasion, bondage, porn, beer, BBQ, video stores, piracy, the Oath of Green Blood, and a whole lot more. Don't miss it...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Horror Business Episode 6: Ask The Son Of Celluloid

Episode 6 of Horror Business is now in the archives.  What do you do when a guest bails on you?  You make the mistake of asking the Cellmates for questions, that's what!  I talk about my horror history, which horror starlets I want to do dirty things to, vampire fights, my former life of crime, ectoplasm as lube, my theories on the genre, and much more.  Download or stream it here...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Horror Business Archive

I know it's been a while since the blog has been active, Cellmates, but I assure you that I am still alive and well.  Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.  I've just been insanely busy with a multitude of other projects.  One of those projects has been my new podcast, Horror Business.
Horror business is a show all about the untold stories of the unsung heroes of the horror community.  The folks that may not get all of the press, but deserve a turn in the spotlight.  The ones who exhibit the kind of passion that makes me proud to call them my horror brethren.  It airs live every other Monday at 10pm on the FDTC Network.  There will be a link at the bottom of this article.  Horror Business alternates weeks with my other show, Missing Link Mixtape.  On MLMT I play two hours of killer tunes from all genres.  They all have a theme that ties them together, and if you guess that link, you could win fabulous prizes.
Until now, if you didn't catch the shows live, you were screwed.  Fortunately, that is no longer the case.  I can;t archive Missing Link Mixtape for legal reasons, but Horror Business is now available to stream or download whenever you want.  Listen to them at work.  Listen to them in your car.  Listen to them while you mow the lawn.  Get some sneaky earbuds and listen to them when you're pretending that you're paying attention to your girlfriend.  Whenever you need a horror fix, enjoy the dulcet tones of the Son of Celluloid and his various guests.  I'll be posting the links to future episodes as they happen, but here are the ones that are currently available...

Episodes 1 and 2 - Brad Slaton of the Picking Brains Podcast

Brad is a podcaster and interviewer extraordinaire, one twisted bastard, and the guy responsible for getting me into podcasting.  We discuss our show, interviewing everyone from Penn Jillette to Glen Danzig, controversy, and the podcasting game in general.  Play the Horror Business drinking game and attempt to do a shot every time Brad says "fuck."  Spoiler: You would die within the first 15 minutes.  As an added bonus, episode 2 contains my epic "torture porn" rant. 

Episode 3 - Ryan Cadaver of The Casket Creatures
Ryan is the front-beast of Atlanta's ghoulrock juggernauts The Casket Creatures.  We discuss running a haunted house, the state of horror punk today, the writing process, crazy shows, and the Count Chocula/Chuck E Cheese conspiracy.

Episode 4 - Stephen Biro of Unearthed Films
Stephen Biro is an author, filmmaker, and owner of Unearthed Films.  Join us as we chat extreme horror, the Yakuza, God and Satan, and the American Guinea Pig Series as well as some EXCLUSIVE announcements regarding upcoming Unearthed releases. 

Episode 5 - James Balsamo of Acid Bath Productions
Filmmaker James Balsamo is no stranger to long time Cellmates.  In this interview we talk 
boobs, blood, slashers, science, boobs, horror legends, physical media, 23 hour shoots, Dave Brockie stories, and boobs.

Every Monday Night at 10 you can...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: Godzilla

Unless you’ve been living somewhere very, very deep in the ocean, you know that Godzilla has stomped his way into theaters.  Actually, if you do live there, you probably swam for your life when he awakened.  Anyway, the flick is proving to be quite divisive among fans of the longest running franchise in film history.  Some are hailing the first American made Godzilla flick as the best kaiju movie in decades.  That’s right, I said the FIRST American Godzilla.  I don’t know what you were thinking about, but it wasn’t a Godzilla flick.  It just wasn’t.  Arguments will not be tolerated.  Others are saying that the summer tentpole action flick is not a vehicle befitting of the King of the Monsters.  Either way, the time has come once again for nature to point out the folly of men. 

Synopsis:  Two giant monsters (dubbed MUTOs) rise up to destroy stuff.  This awakens Godzilla, and he’s pissed.  Monster mayhem eventually ensues.  ‘Nuff said.  Does anything else really matter?

My biggest fear about an American Godzilla flick was that it would take after Pacific Rim and look like a cartoon.  My hatred for CGI is well documented, and I went into this movie fully expecting a CGI Godzilla to drive me into a frenzy of righteous indignation.    Well, I’m about to say something I have only said in one other review over the last three and a half years… the CGI in this flick looks fantastic.  I would go so far as to say that this is the best computer generated monster that cinema has ever produced.  I will always be a rubber suit kinda guy, but visually this movie absolutely does our favorite gorilla-whale justice; maintaining that classic purposeful grimace and terrible sound.  While I didn’t dig the rather generic design of the MUTOs so much (pretty much just like the Cloverfield monster), they look great as well.  Even the digitally created environments impressed.  Not once while watching it did I cringe at the visual effects, and I can’t remember the last time I could say that about a modern fantasy “blockbuster.”  I also love that Gareth Edwards took a more old-school approach to the action sequences.  Whereas almost all action flicks these days follow that “shake the camera and edit it as quickly as possible” style that makes the Transformers flicks so unwatchable, this flick lets the shots linger, allowing the audience to revel in the sheer majesty of Godzilla’s presence.

Most of the vitriol being thrown at the movie by critics and fans centers around two things, the weakness of the overall story and Godzilla’s lack of screen time.  Those who decry the lameness of the romantic subplot and the uninteresting human element are actually one hundred percent right.  The love story is contrived and eye-rollingly sappy.  With the exception of Bryan Cranston as the kooky scientist with all of the answers who no one will listen to and Ken Watanabe as the scientist there to look distraught, no one is particularly likable.  Ford Brody (really?) is your generic good guy with a tragic past, and Kick-Ass plays him like he’s trying to emote while heavily sedated.  Elizabeth Olsen’s acting is laughably bad as the wife he may or may not make it back to.  Everyone else is just plain unmemorable. 

I ask you, however, is this either surprising or a big problem?  I don’t think so.  When was the last time that the humans in a Godzilla flick presented an engaging, emotional story?  Hell, when was the last time they even mattered?  That’s right, the first one.  People forget that Gojira (as well as its American counterpart for that matter) was more than a monster flick.  In its day, it was considered controversial and somewhat subversive.  It used the story of a rampaging beast to address a lot of subjects that were extremely taboo in Japanese society.  It was dark, intense, and pretty powerful when viewed in context.  Then, when Godzilla himself became hugely popular, the human story became secondary.  They’re just there to deliver a little exposition and run away screaming.  Nothing more than the plate that the action is served up on.  Would it have been nice to have a powerful story with well-drawn characters framing the destruction?  Of course, but I think it’s a bit ridiculous to go in expecting that.  Those that did may have forgotten what kind of movie they bought a ticket for.

The other problem people are having is the lack of Godzilla in Godzilla.  I didn’t time it, but I would estimate that Big G is on screen for about 20 minutes out of the film’s 123.  Sure, I would have liked to see a lot more of the main man, but there are quite a few factors that keep me from sweating the titular monster’s meager screen time.  I get what they were going for and I think it worked.  Godzilla is in the flick just enough for the story they’re telling.  I know, I know, I was expecting a Final Wars style balls-to-the-wall monster romp too.  But it’s more along the lines of the first one and I’m cool with that because when Godzilla IS on screen, it’s magical.  Even when we’re not beholding him in all his glory, those glimpses are enough to make me feel like I did as a kid watching the old flicks on late night TV.  For example, for a while we only see Godzilla’s back as he swims across the Pacific towards the inevitable city-destroying confrontation.  It plays like an action hero’s “someone is gonna get their skull caved in” walk.  You know what’s coming, and it’s gonna be glorious.  Plus, we get some great moments with the MUTOs outside of their interaction with Godzilla.  There is one scene (I won’t give too much away, but it involves a train trestle) that is one of the strongest moments in the flick.  I also have my doubts that those killer visual effects would look nearly as good had the animators had an entire movie’s worth of kaiju footage to contend with as opposed to focusing on keeping fewer scenes looking so bad ass, making it a question of quality over quantity.

My one major issue is that it’s about 15 minutes too long.  I will admit to looking at my watch a couple of times, particularly during the first half, and wondering when business was gonna pick up.  Don’t get me wrong, when it does get going it clicks on all cylinders.  It just takes its sweet time getting there.  Had they paced the expository stories faster, or cut some of it altogether, it would have fixed everything.  No one would be bitching.  The story wouldn’t have time to feel uninspired and the human to Godzilla ratio would be more along the lines of what people were expecting.  It’s fine as it stands, but it seems to me that some tightening up would have made it a stronger flick and delivered something closer to what the people who didn’t dig it seem to have been looking for.

Random Thought #1: I must have reacted loudly to a lingering close up of one of my beloved Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, because people looked at me like I was crazy.  I couldn’t help it.  I love those little guys, and seeing one on an IMAX screen made me one happy Bogey.

Random Thought #2: Speaking of IMAX, see it that way if at all possible.  I’m not normally a big IMAX fan, but if there was ever a movie that demanded to be seen on the biggest screen possible it’s this one.

Random Thought #3: Bryan Cranston reminded me a lot of Adam West in this flick for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

Is this the Godzilla flick that I was expecting?  Nope.  Is it the Godzilla flick I wanted?  Kinda.  Is it a Godzilla flick that I enjoyed the hell out of?  Damn straight.  It got too slow for my tastes here and there, but when Big G showed up, all of that was a distant memory.  I literally found myself, on more than one occasion, cheering at the top of my voice in the theater before I even knew I was doing it.  Outside of that rare, incredible kill in a horror flick, that never happens.  When I looked around, the rest of the crowd was cheering too.  As I said before, I felt like a kid watching this.  As long as you know what kind of movie you’re going into, I think it will have the same effect on you.  Here’s hoping that this is the first of many stateside trips for the terror of Tokyo.  Godzilla proves, once again, that he will always be King of the Monsters.  Long live the King!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Win An Autographed Copy Of The Casket Creature's EP She Screams!

The Lunatics from the Sticks.  The Ghastly Ghouls of Gainesville.  Dirty South Frightrock Juggernauts.  Whatever you want to call them, The Casket Creatures are back with a brand new EP called She Screams.   It delivers all of the ferocity and raw terror you’ve come to expect from the reigning kings of Atlanta’s horror rock scene while continuing the evolution of their sonic attack.  After lineup chaos that would cripple most bands, The Casket Creatures have emerged a leaner, meaner beast ready to raise the dead and rock the living.

Throughout their two full length albums and now the EP, you can hear a clear progression.  Like any good band, they continue to evolve and challenge themselves while maintaining their trademark sound.  She Screams sees the Creatures move in a somewhat “punkier” direction.  They’ve shed a few of their more metallic elements without sacrificing any of the intensity.  I think a lot of that lies in the guitar work.  With Jamie’s departure, last axe-man standing Derek Obscura’s signature sleaze/glam punk edge takes center stage.  If I were to compare it to anything, I would say the guitar style sounds sorta reminiscent of a less poppy version of Wednesday 13’s better work.  That’s not to say it sounds the same, however.  Derek definitely has his own style and flair… and damn can that boy write a catchy ass riff!

Where the rhythm section is concerned, new bass monster Cliff Damnage brings a punishing energy to the bottom end.  Wow, that sounded vaguely dirty.  Anyway, nothing against any past member, but Cliff is the perfect fit for the band and his contribution goes a long way towards the gelling of a cohesive sound.   Besides, it’s always a good sign when your bass player is named Cliff, right?  As they’ve had a bit of a Spinal Tap drummer situation going on lately, I can’t really say much as to the drums on the record.  I can say, however, that after seeing new skin basher Brandon Deadly in action live, he’s more than capable of taking up the mantle.

Ryan Cadaver continues to develop the signature “aggro-croon” that makes him one of the most dynamic frontmen in the genre, but the real surprise on this album is in the backing vocals.  She Screams features a LOT of harmonizing.  Remember when harmony was a dirty word in heavy alternative rock until Alice In Chains showed us that it could be damn amazing?  This is the American horror punk equivalent.  The harmonies on songs like Haunted and The Final Night (is it kosher to call horror punk “woah-oh-oh’s” beautiful?) take the role of vocals in this style of music to a new level.

The band definitely maintains their macabre sense of humor on this EP.  The interlude that precedes Zombie Werewolves From Outer Space reminded me of some of the silliness from The Ghastly One’s classic A Haunting We Will Go-Go album.  Graveyard Girl strikes a great balance of light-hearted and heartless, and GKMF revels in giving the world a giant middle finger with a little smirk in its sneer.  Even straight ahead tales of terror like the title track, a botched exorcism ode, and the apocalyptic The Final Night crackle with an element of fun that makes this a great Halloween party album any time of year.

As far as picking a standout track, there really isn’t a weak link in the bunch.  I guess I would have to go with the title track, She Screams.  It stands alongside Lizzie’s Song and A Step Ahead of Death as possibly the best song the guys have ever unleashed.  In fact, the songwriting all around is top notch.  I catch myself singing these tunes in the shower, which I consider the mark of true quality.  I know, the mental picture of me in all of my sudsy, naked glory belting out Zombie Werewolves From Outer Space just made this one a must own.  You’re welcome.

The Casket Creatures, Phantom Troublemaker, and SOC.

By now you’re asking yourself “how do I get this goodness in my earholes?”  Well, She Screams is currently available for purchase on Amazon, itunes, and CD Baby… OR you could enter to win the autographed copy I’m giving away.  That’s right Cellmates; I have one brand spanking new copy, autographed by your favorite horror punk band, to give away to one of you.  Who loves you, baby?  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below with your email address and your favorite horror-influenced song.  It could be horror punk, metal, some obscure blues song about crossroads demons, an Alice Cooper classic, a country murder ballad, a movie score, Heffalumps and freakin’ Woozles, whatever.  As a bonus, if you go check out The Son OfCelluloid Show (LINK) AND subscribe to the youtube channel, I’ll enter your name twice.  Just make sure you alert me to that in your comment.  The contest ends on April 23, and the winner will be announced on episode 3 of The Son Of Celluloid Show on April 28.  Now get cracking, Cellmates!
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