Wednesday, March 30, 2011

April is 30 Day Horror Challenge Month

Yes folks, I am still among the living, or at least the undead. I know that I’ve been neglecting my duties here at the blog lately. Hell, I’ve only posted 3 times this month. Why is that you ask? Well, honestly, the horror offerings in the early months of 2011 haven’t offered a lot of inspiration. I run this blog a little differently from some I’ve seen. I don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on quantity of posts. I know some bloggers who feel they must put SOMETHING up every day. Cool man, do your thing. I prefer to use this blog as an outlet when I actually have something to say. I’ve been converting my VHS collection to DVD lately, so I’ve been watching my old stuff and have a couple of retrospectives in the works, but I’m gonna put those on the back burner for the time being. I’ve got something else in mind. Starting April 1st I will be participating in a concept that seems like a lot of fun and a chance to get the old writing juices flowing. I’ll be taking on the 30 Day Horror Challenge started over at Big Daddy Horror Reviews. It’s similar to the 30 day photo and song challenges you’ve all seen on facebook. I will be posting every day in April in response to these questions…

Day 01 - A horror film that no one would expect you to love, but you do
Day 02 - The horror film that you releate most to
Day 03 - Your favorite slasher
Day 04 - Your favorite werewolf film
Day 05 - Your favorite monster movie
Day 06 - Your favorite vampire movie
Day 07 - Your favorite supernatural horror film
Day 08 - Your favorite anthology
Day 09 - Your favorite exploitation / grind house type film
Day 10 - Your favorite psychological horror film
Day 11 - Your favorite science fiction horror film
Day 12 - Your favorite horror film involving the occult
Day 13 - Your favorite horror comedy
Day 14 - Your favorite zombie film
Day 15 - Your favorite horror film involving serial killers
Day 16 - Your favorite childhood themed horror film
Day 17 - Your favorite horror film remake
Day 18 - Your favorite foreign horror film (outside of your country of origin)
Day 19 - Your favorite horror film involving the powers of Hell or Satanism
Day 20 - Your favorite horror film involving a killer animal
Day 21 - Your favorite medical horror film
Day 22 - Your favorite horror themed TV show
Day 23 - Your favorite made for TV horror film
Day 24 - Horror film in which you perfer the edited version over the director's cut
Day 25 - A horror film that you used to hate, but now like
Day 26 - Your favorite horror film to watch as a child
Day 27 - Your favorite guilty pleasure
Day 28 - Your favorite horror film that no one's ever heard of
Day 29 - Your least favorite horror film of all time
Day 30 - Your favorite horror film of all time

The only rule is that you can only use a movie once. For example, I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag that Night of the Living Dead is my all time favorite, so I can’t use it for the zombie movie day. Sound interesting? If you’ve got a blog, facebook, twitter, whatever, or if you want to play along in the comments here (which would be AWESOME) then join me. Some of these are gonna be easy, some of these are going to be tough to answer. Either way, this will be fun, or at least an interesting ride. It’s about to get busy, and bloody, in here. See you on April Fools Day loyal readers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Drive Angry and Paul: Exceptions to the rule.

I get accused sometimes of sounding like a broken record. People say I bitch too much about my 2 major pet peeves in cinema right now, CGI and third person shaky cam. This is true, but in my defense, it’s because almost every movie I go see contains copious amounts of both. It seems no one does practical effects any more, and if they do, they can’t hold the damn camera still long enough to see them. I went to see Season of the Witch a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t write a review. Why? Because aside from a great performance by Ron Pearlman (who should have gotten top billing as it really is his movie), it would have been the old “bad CGI and needless shaky cam” rant again. In the last two days, however, I have seen a couple of movies that do something rare, commendable, and exciting. They use these two overdone trappings of new millennium Hollywood well. Yes folks, I’m about to say something good about a bouncing camera and a digitally created character. Yes, I’m fine. If you do that “he must be sick” hand to the forehead routine, I’ll bite it off. Oh, and both of these flicks I’m going to talk about get two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check ‘em out.

First I went to see Paul. No, it’s not horror, but I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It wasn’t quite as good as Shaun of the Dead (then again 95% of movies aren’t) or Hot Fuzz, but it was an enjoyable comedy with enough classic sci-fi references to keep the geeks happy. Before anyone gets offended, I have a right to use “geek” for the same reason black people can use the “N” word and gay people get to use the “F” word. I are one. Basically I’d call this a grown up ET. It’s a more mainstream oriented movie than Shaun or Fuzz, but it is funny, which is more than I can say for 80% of the comedies I’ve seen in the last few years. The actual character of Paul, the alien that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost find, is quite possibly the most fully realized digitally created character in movie history. Yeah, Avatar, blah blah blah. I haven’t seen Avatar and have no desire to, so for the purposes of this discussion it doesn’t exist. Besides, this wasn’t motion captured, it was animated. The creature actually looks like he belongs in the shot with the actors. The small folds of the skin, the way the shading on the character always perfectly matched the lighting of the shot, and the emotion and, for lack of a better word, humanity that they manage to infuse this CGI character with is incredible. He looked so natural that it was easy to forget for a moment that he was animated and just accept him as part of the scene. Paul has proved to me that great CGI is possible. Unless you’re making a Syfy original, you have no excuse for bad CGI ever again guys.

Today I finally caught up with Drive Angry. I saw it in glorious, mind blowing, no glasses required 2D! Honestly, I saw nothing that seemed like it would have been better in 3D and maybe without the extra 5 bucks added on to the ticket this wouldn’t have tanked so bad at the box office. Hollywood, trust me on this one, use 3D sparingly. If it only happens now and then, people will pay fifteen bucks for a ticket because it’s an event. If every other movie is 3D, it’s not a novelty any more, and therefore not worth the extra cost. It’s a shame too, because this is a downright fun flick. Watching Grindhouse and Machete was a fun throwback to 70’s horror and action flicks, but it felt like a tribute rather than the genuine article. Like a cover song. There were times watching Drive Angry, however, that the advances in film technology itself is the only way you could tell it wasn’t some lost classic from 1978. The characters were WAY over the top and spouted non stop one liners. The vintage muscle cars were beautiful. The whole “Satan cult” angle definitely had that late 70’s early 80’s “satanic panic” era feel. From the revenge road trip plot to the Meatloaf sound alike playing over the final scene, this was big, bloody, loud, sleazy retro goodness. Gratuitous nudity? Check. Gratuitous violence? Check. Gratuitous Tom Atkins? Check. The acting is good, especially from Willian Fichtner. We even get a mid-coital shootout. C'mon, how often do you get to see that? My only problem with this flick? Three or four really bad CGI shots. Yes, I know I’m bitching about the same old thing again, but it really did stick out like a sore thumb. Leah brought up the point that those shots may have looked better in 3D. True, I can’t really say, but I highly doubt it.

Another strength of this flick is the great car chases. This is where the actual good use of 3rd person shaky cam comes in. Defenders of 3rd person shaky cam say that it is used to give the audience a feel of the franticness of a situation. I don’t know about you, but if my vision in the heat of a stressful moment looked the way these scenes are usually filmed, it would probably mean my neck was broken. Seriously, most action sequences these days look like that were shot by a bobble head doll. If the camera is playing the role of the omniscient eye, IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE FOR IT TO SHAKE. In Drive Angry, the shots from the outside of the cars are generally kept pretty steady. The camera only shakes when the action is taking place inside a moving car. There is a fight scene in an RV that is speeding and weaving through traffic. The camera jumps and sways all over the place just like you would in an RV bouncing all over the road. It makes sense. Shots of Nicholas Cage driving from outside his car are steady. Shots from inside the car when he isn’t driving crazy are steady. When the car starts ping-ponging at high speed around the road, the shots from inside the car shake. THAT MAKES SENSE! If the viewer was there, their vision would actually look like that. This is the type of situation where third person shaky cam adds to the realism of a scene rather than taking the viewer out with over stylized crap.

There it is. Hell froze over for a moment. I praised the use of CGI in one flick and 3rd person shaky cam in another. You see folks, from now on if you hear me carrying on my crusade against the twin evils of modern cinema, know that I’m not just blindly condemning these things across the board. They can be done well, and when they are, I will point that out just as quickly. Besides, nothing can be all bad all the time, right? What? Twilight? Nickelback? Jersey Shore? Ok, fine. I stand corrected.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Artistic Freedom Under Attack: A Serbian Film

As any of you who read my blog know, I like to joke around and have fun with the horror genre. Today, however, I have something very serious to talk about. Many of you are familiar with the controversial movie A Serbian Film. I listed it as one of my top 10 films of last year. It was screened at the Sitges Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain in October of 2010. Earlier this month, Barcelona’s public prosecutor filed formal charges against festival director Angel Sala. The charge? Exhibition of child pornography.

For those of you who have not seen the film and plan to, please be warned that the next 2 sentences give away plot details. You may want to skip them. The controversy stems from 2 scenes. One is the rape of a newborn, the other a little boy. What the Spanish government seems not to realize is that neither of these events actually happened. Serbian Film is a fictional movie. One doesn’t even occur on screen, we only hear the sounds. That particular scene is the most disturbing thing I’ve seen or heard in a movie, well, maybe ever. I’m not debating that the acts depicted are vile. The issue is that they are NOT REAL! There were no children harmed, nor were any children even present, during the filming of these scenes.

Pornography is defined as “the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.” First of all, the depiction of the sexual violence against children in the film is not explicit. Disturbing, yes, but explicit, no. Second of all, these scenes are not meant to titillate or arouse at all. They are portrayed as the reprehensible actions of a deranged man. To make an accusation as serious as exhibiting child pornography against someone for showing a fictional film in which a crime is depicted that never actually happened is preposterous. How can it be kiddie porn if no children were victimized? Spain's "Catholic Confederation of Family and Student Parents" successfully led the charge to have a man charged with a heinous crime not because the crime occurred, but because he dared to exhibit a film that conveyed the IDEA of the crime. I’ll pause for a second to let the irony of a Catholic organization calling for the demonization of someone depicting the FAKE sexual victimization of children sink in.

I would be incensed enough if this was merely a case of the old “Obscene Material” debate. Societies have been trying to destroy art that challenges cultural norms for as long as there’s been art. Censorship in and of itself is bad enough. This, however, is not a case of “this art offends me so it must be banned.” No, this is much more insidious. It is taking what is portrayed fictionally and treating it as if it is real for the purposes of prosecution. This is a very dangerous precedent to set. If this stands, what comes next? Could a theater showing a bloody slasher flick be charged with exhibiting a snuff film? What about a rape scene? This is a slippery slope that we cannot allow governments to start. This type of case seeks not to control the level of graphicness, but subject matter itself! The Spanish government wants to tell filmmakers and theater owners what they can make and show movies about and what they can’t. That idea scares me far more than anything I’ve ever seen on film. They aren’t even going after the filmmakers, but someone who showed the film. Apparently it wasn’t a child porn issue when it was screened at festivals in Brussels, Montreal, London, Austin, San Francisco, Toronto, Sofia, Hamburg, Helsinki, Puchon (South Korea), Stockholm, Cannes, Santa Monica, or anywhere else. Why Spain? Why now?

Why should you care about what is going on in Spain anyway? Because, my friends, this situation has far reaching implications that could impact all of us in the horror community. The effects are already being felt. FlixFling, who are the American distributor for A Serbian Film, have been promising movie goers a limited theatrical release, assuring us that it would be shown the way the director intended, uncut. In an interview with Fangoria, CEO Tom Ashley revealed that when it is shown starting May 13, it will, in fact, be edited. The reason for their change of heart? You guessed it! Ashley stated “It was always our intention to release this film uncut, but given the recent charges against Sitges director Angel Sala, we have decided to release an edited version.” Although it has already been shown in its original form at festivals in America, due to this ridiculous situation, they’ve given in to censorship. What’s happening in Spain is already working its way into America. We just got an unrated theater release last year for the first time in 25 years. Now it seems the climate is taking two steps back. If this kind of thing continues, festival directors, film exhibitors, and theater owners will be afraid to show edgy or controversial films at all. The fascism of political correctness will have won. The MPAA is bad enough without adding this fuel to the fire.

So what can you or I do? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure how to make a difference in what is going on in Spain. There are steps that we can take to let our voices be heard. Whether it will actually have an impact I can’t say, but I for one can’t do nothing. I do know that an online petition to the Spanish courts is being circulated, spearheaded by a group of Spanish filmmakers and festival organizers. There will be a link to it at the end of this article. I have heard some people who otherwise seem quite intelligent and rational call for the banning of this film. It is a rough flick, I’ll give it that. There are a lot of people who couldn't handle this one, and I understand that. There are people who say this movie went too far and shouldn't have been made. While I will NEVER agree with banning any film, I can see where they are coming from. This isn’t even an issue of whether the film should be banned or not, it is an issue of whether or not someone can be prosecuted for showing a film that recreates a crime. Your thoughts, my thoughts, anyone’s thoughts about the movie itself are irrelevant at this point. I urge you, if you care at all about artistic freedom, or justice at all, sign the petition. I urge you all to boycott FlixFling’s screenings of the neutered version of the film. I also urge you to go one step further and write them, telling them that you would support an unrated, uncut showing of the film, but refuse to spend your hard earned money to watch as the director’s vision is compromised. Thank you for hearing me out, it’s an issue I feel very strongly about. Please sign the petition, write FlixFling, boycott all censored screenings of A Serbian Film, support anyone with the balls to show the real movie, and let’s fight for cinematic artistic freedom.

NOTE: Scroll down the page to read the petition in English

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Freddy's Nightmares Review: Part Two

Well loyal readers, it’s time to head back to Springwood again. Are you ready for Freddy? Well too damn bad! I’m continuing my trek through the Freddy’s Nightmares series and it’s certainly been an interesting trip so far. We've met a new villain, the evil Jill Donner. We've witnessed Krueger's revised origin. We "Stuck that in our VCRs and sucked on it." Well, maybe not that last one. Sorry Freddy. Anyway, since our last excursion into dreamland I acquired episodes 5-8, so we’re back in order. How do these episodes stack up? Read on…

Episode 5: Judy Miller, Come On Down

Decent episode, if this wasn’t supposed to be a horror series. Here’s the gist; Judy Miller, who is putting her husband through school and living with her in-laws, hates her life. Her only escape is an addiction to game shows. When she finds herself on a nightmarish episode of Beat the Reaper, she’s playing for a million bucks, and the lives of her family. The game show scenes are fun in an absurdist dark comedy way. The cheesy host, the canned audience, it all has a good surreal dreamy quality. The pendulum gag with her husband is cool, but the “eaten by ants” demise her in-laws get is oh so lame. Overall, the first half isn’t bad. In the second half, Judy has won the money, shipped her in-laws off to Florida, and life is good. Then her future self, in the guise of a maid, shows up to tell her that tragedy will befall her if she doesn’t give away the money. This reminded me of a way below average Twilight Zone episode. If I wanted that I’d watch Tales from the Darkside. Siobhan McCafferty is pretty good as Judy, but all of the other actors seem like they’re either sedated or as bored as I was watching it. The final shot, which is supposed to be the “shock” ending, is predictable and poorly executed. Overall, the game show portion of the episode is worthwhile for a few twisted laughs, and the rest isn’t really bad, just boring. Feel free to skip this one.

Episode 6: Saturday Night Special

Oh man, this episode is half glorious mess, half plain ‘ol crap. Where do I start? I’ll just run down what happens, and you’ll get the idea. Lonely loser Gordon dreams about dating Lana, played by Shari Shattuck, who also starred in the gloriously cheesy flick Death Spa. He decides to go to the Rendezvous Dating Service, where he is encouraged to lie in his video, saying that he is a wealthy former pro hockey player. Then a huge Freddy eats the building. Yep. The next morning, Lana calls him to ask him out. At dinner, Gordon keeps having visions of the Waitresses dying by champagne cork and meat skewer. Then they go ice skating. What follows is the highlight of the episode, a great sequence where Lana, clad only in lingerie and a hockey mask, shoots pucks at him, before running him over with a zamboni as she poses seductively on a couch attached to the front of the machine. This is where the episode really goes haywire. Suddenly Gordon is in the parking lot looking at the Rendevous sign. Then the sign suddenly reads Carnall’s Meat Packing. For some reason, Gordie and his car are now magically in the middle of the road. Out of nowhere, a car hits him. We cut to Freddy, who carves a piece off of a side of beef, tells us that “When it comes to flesh, the first cut is always the deepest,” and throws it on a grill. Um, WHAT? I can’t make this stuff up. She isn’t in the credits, but I could swear Jill Donner is writing this crap. She has to be. Damn you Jill Donner. The second half of the episode is a dumb morality tale about a plain girl who has plastic surgery with disastrous results. Along the way there’s head chiseling, metal boobs, really bad dialog, and a body whose neck is untouched as the paramedics say that her jugular has been cut. Trust me, none of that is remotely as entertaining as it sounds. The first half of this episode is so wacky and bizarre that it winds up being quite entertaining. Nathan says check it out, but turn it off when Freddy throws another one on the barbie.

Episode 7: Sister’s Keeper

Here’s another interesting idea that you don’t see a lot in anthology shows; a sequel. Sister’s Keeper is a follow up to No More Mr. Nice Guy, the pilot episode. We follow Lisa and Merit, who are the twin daughters of the officer who torched Freddy. Freddy is tormenting Merit in her dreams, but since she was Freddy’s “one that got away” and spent time in mental institutions, no one believes her. When Lisa sees him too, the girls team up to try to rid their dreams of Krueger. I’m seeing a trend developing here. The episodes that feature Freddy as a character (Mr. Nice Guy, Tricks and Treats, and this one) are the best in the series so far. This seems to be for two reasons. Number one, they more closely resemble a low budget, less gory version of the Nightmare movies. Number two, so far both of the Freddy episodes since the pilot were directed by Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves, Return of the Living Dead 2). Hili and Gry Park are good as the twins. Robert Englund is great as always, although that jump/kick thing with the guitar was, well, special. This episode, with more time for the story to develop and a much higher body count, could actually be a Nightmare flick. It also has an outstanding downer of an ending that I absolutely loved. Definitely one of the best episodes to this point.

Episode 8: Mothers Day

Reversing the trend, the first half of the episode is average and the second half is good. In the first half, Billy and his mom move in with her new husband, who is a real prick. Then he meets Barbara, played by Jill Whitlow from the classic Night of the Creeps and the god-awful Twice Dead. He dozes off and dreams that she invites her friends over, they trash the place, his step dad attacks him, and he knocks him head first into a bear trap. In reality, Barbara is trying to help him get some rest when Billy falls out of the window, dying and making step dad die of a heart attack. Like I said, average stuff. In the second half, Barbara’s mother, a radio show psychologist, gives a caller bad advice and he ends up shooting someone on the air. A series of well done dream sequences follow, including her being accused of being an accessory to murder, a blood spewing mic, her being chased with a meat cleaver by the man’s wife (who looks a lot like Norman Bates in his Mother getup), watching herself hang herself in her cell, and hearing herself talking to herself on the radio. Did you get all that herself stuff? Ok, good, took me a minute too. There’s a fine line between using NOES style “dream logic” and just making no damn sense. The former involves using the conventions of the universe the stories exist in to play with the audience, keeping them on their toes and wondering what is real and what is a dream. The latter is just lazy script writing, justifying an incoherent script by saying it’s all in a character’s head. Whereas episodes like Deadline just make no damn sense (have I mentioned that I want the head of Jill Donner on a silver platter?), Mother’s Day is a good example of what can happen when this story device is used effectively. I think this is tied with Killer Instinct as the best non-Freddy episode to date.

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