Saturday, April 30, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 30 - Your favorite horror film of all time

So here we are, at the finale of round one of the 30 Day Horror Challenge. I'd like to thank all the new friends and readers I've found during this event, and I hope you'll stick around. Now that we've got that out of the way, I was having a little trouble with how to approach this post. During film school, I wrote extensively about my favorite movie of all time, the original Night of the Living Dead. No less than 10 different papers in fact. While my love for this movie knows no bounds, I had to do something different if I was going to write it again. Well, this is certainly different. The idea for this post came from a combination of my friend Travis and my mother, so if you don’t dig it, blame them. This is my attempt to tell the story of my favorite horror flick in the style of my childhood favorite author, the incomparable Dr. Seuss. So here it is folks, the Seussification of Night of the Living Dead…

“They’re coming to get you Barbara,”

Johnny said with a grin

“They’re coming for you,”

He teased again and again

But his words, they came true

When a zombie attacked.

Smacked his head on a tombstone

And Whack! His head cracked.

Barbara, run for your life!

Barbara, run for the car!

But Johnny’s got the keys,

So you ain’t running far.

Pull the brake! Now the car

Rolls straight into a tree.

And the zombie’s still coming.

Barbara, you’d better flee!

Run to that farmhouse,

That one off in the distance.

There are ghouls, but don’t worry,

You’ll have some assistance

From Ben, who arrives

Tire iron a’ swinging.

He’s pinging, and zinging’

And stinging , and bringing

Down all of the ghouls

With a blow to the head.

‘Cause that’s the only way

To stop the living dead.

Ben starts barricading.

Barbara gets hysterical.

Her ranting and raving,

Is downright unbearable.

She tries opening the door,

And that’s the last straw.

There’s just one thing to do,

Yep, right cross to the jaw!

Thank God she’s out cold.

That girl’s rambling was endless.

With her out of the way

Ben can get down to business.

BANG BANG BANG goes the hammer.

Board this place up tight!

BANG BANG BANG, they won’t

Be munching on us tonight.

But who is this now

Coming up from the cellar?

It’s Cooper, a loudmouthed

Balding ol’ feller.

His daughter Karen’s been bitten

She’s down there with her mom

And a cute teenaged couple

Named Judy and Tom.

Cooper says “To the cellar!”

(turns out he was right)

But Ben disagrees,

And the two start to fight.

“I won’t go in the cellar!

I won’t go, you hear?

You can be boss down there,

But I’m the boss up here.

That cellar’s a deathtrap,

A deathtrap I say.

If those things get in here,

Then we can’t get away.”

Hang on, there’s a TV,

Find out where help is at!

But all they heard was

“It has been established that

The recently deceased

While the body’s still fresh

Are returning to life

And seeking human flesh”

But there are rescue stations!

Our plan is now clear.

‘Cause Willard is just

Seventeen miles from here.

Ben’s got a truck

But the gas tank is dry.

There’s a pump, and it’s locked

But it’s still worth a try.

'Cause if we don’t go now,

Then we just might be stuck,

So Tom, Judy, and Ben

Go to gas up the truck.

Ben shoots the lock off the pump

With a .22

(Don’t try that at home kids,

It’s a dumb thing to do)

But Tom’s spilling the gas.

Now they’re all out of luck.

‘Cause Ben’s torch blazes on

In the back of the truck.

Then the truck goes KABOOM!

And the kids meet their doom

As a barbecue

The living dead will consume.

With his truck now en fuego

Ben runs for the house…

Wait a minute,

Was that zombie eating a mouse?

Ben yells “Let me In Cooper!”

But he won’t, it’s no use,

So then when Ben gets in,

That’s when all hell breaks loose.

Cooper tries for Ben’s gun

And gets shot in the fight,

Zombie Johnny drags Barbara

Off into the night,

Karen munches on Daddy,

Who she’s disemboweled,

And stabs mommy again

And again with a trowel.

The boards start to give

And the zombies flood in.

Bolt yourself in the cellar

Or you’ll get eaten Ben!

Come morning, an army

Of rednecks with guns

Are hunting down zombies,

Shooting every last one.

And I really must say,

It looks like lots of fun.

Ben hears gunshots and thinks

Hooray! Help has arrived!

He comes upstairs, thinking

He actually survived.


Through the window he looks

Just like the living dead

So the redneck takes aim

And shoots Ben in the head.

That’s the end of the story

Ben’s the last to expire

Our hero’s now just

Another one for the fire.

Where do we go from here,

As we watch mankind fall?

If you’re asking me, I say

We go to the mall.

Night of the Living Dead

A masterpiece, there’s no doubt.

Two severed thumbs up.

Nathan says check it out!

Friday, April 29, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 29 - Your least favorite horror film of all time.

Coincidentally, my friend Nate and I were just talking about why I can’t stand this movie last night at the Murder Junkies concert. After my post about how it was unfair to judge Scream based on the hordes of awful imitators, I can’t rightfully hate on 28 Days Later because of the whole fast zombie thing. These weren’t even zombies, they were infected humans. The whole idiotic notion of running undead zombies that this movie kicked off was the fault of the imitators who missed the point, not the original. What I can hate on it for is the thing I hated about it before it became the standard way to shoot mainstream horror. That abomination is 3rd person shaky cam.

As I walked out of the movie theater, I said to my friends something to the effect of “why the hell would you spend that much on makeup and effects and then intentionally shoot it to where no one can get a good look at it?” Stills from the movie show some great makeup and set design. Too bad you can’t see it. Little did I know that this would become the predominant way to shoot an action scene in Hollywood. The effect has especially been profound on horror movies, and has nearly obliterated the suspensefully built and well crafted and framed horror sequence.

There is a big difference between first person and third person shaky cam. It makes sense when the shot is supposed to be the subjective view of one of the characters. In a movie like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Rec, or any of the “found footage” type of movies dating all the way back to Cannibal Holocaust, I have no problem with it. If it is a POV shot, like Jason watching campers through the trees or the opening sequence of Halloween, I have no problem with it. When the camera is supposed to represent the omniscient eye of the viewer and not a character within the scene, however, it doesn’t make sense.

I know the argument for the style is “it conveys the franticness of the situation.” That can be conveyed more effectively by effective panning, dollying, and other smooth camera movement. Ideally, it would be conveyed through the movement of the action within the frame. The score adds a lot to it also. The problem with this is that these things take more effort and skill. Shaking the camera to try to make a scene more intense is just lazy filmmaking. I’m not saying all shots should be static. Then they look like a stage play. You can look at Tod Browning’s Dracula for an example of that. What I’m saying is that there is a big difference in artfully done camera movement and making your film look like it was shot by a bobblehead doll.

28 Days Later wasn’t the first movie to use third person shaky cam. It’s been used since the early 80’s, primarily in war movies. During battle scenes, the camera would shake to simulate explosions and such. The first instance of it being used in a horror movie that I could find was Jacob’s Ladder, but that was in the war sequences as well. The difference is it was used sparingly. There’s barely a single static shot in 28 Days later. The freakin’ camera can’t hold still on shots of two characters talking for crying out loud!

I have a different theory of why the filmmakers decided to do this. They shot this film with Cannon XL-1 cameras. At the time, the technology of blowing mini DV up to show it on a screen the size of most movie theaters was in its infancy. It looked grainy. I think they shook the damn camera so much to mask the video quality in some places by not letting the audience get a good look at it. The merits of that can be debated, but since then filmmakers have used it to excess just because it’s the current style. It’s taken us all the way to Battlefield LA, which uses it to such overkill that it seems that they are intentionally trying to make their film unwatchable.

The modern fascination with third person shaky cam can arguably be traced back to the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Once again, it is a war movie, but it became the Hollywood standard. 28 Days Later started the horror genre’s use of the technique, so it holds a special place of contempt for me. I’m not blaming 28 Days Later simply for it’s followers, I hated the shooting style in that movie from the moment I saw it and before anyone decided to emulate it. Third person shaky cam is a poor substitute for well directed action and creative use of camera movement. It is a crutch used by those who don’t know how to properly shoot a horror action sequence. It’s a shame too, because 28 Days Later had a lot going for it. The bobblehead cameraman technique ruined it though. Two severed thumbs down. Nathan says don’t check out movies like this, and if you absolutely must, download them. If movies with third person shaky cam don’t make any money, maybe filmmakers will start holding the damn camera steady.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 28 - Your favorite horror film that no one's ever heard of.

I discovered this twisted little gem while I was working at Hollywood video. I was in the process of working my way through dubbing the entire horror section when I came across this one and fell in love with it. I never saw it at any other video store. Whenever I asked anyone if they’d seen Private Parts, they always thought I was talking about that terrible Howard Stern movie. Either that or they did the Beavis and Butthead laugh. Anyway, I resigned myself to the fact that I was the only person on earth who had heard of, much less appreciated, this flick. Imagine my surprise a few years back when I was doing my customary Wal-Mart 5 dollar DVD bin rummage, and this turned up. It’s since gone out of print again, but this bizarre psycho-sexual thriller is well worth tracking down.

This is the kind of movie that could only have come out of the 70’s. I can think of no other time in American cinema history that a flick like this would have been released by a major studio. It was the feature directing debut of Paul Bartell. He was better known as an actor, but directed Death Race 2000, Lust in the Dust, and Eating Raul. Our main heroine is a young, naïve girl named Cheryl. Cheryl and her friend Judy have run away together. After getting caught spying on Judy and her boyfriend getting it on, Cheryl moves out and takes Judy’s wallet with her. She finds her way to The King Edward Hotel, a residence hotel run by Cheryl’s Aunt Martha. The hotel is populated by a group of weirdoes, sleazeballs, and nutcases, which I’ll get into in a moment. Cheryl can’t resist snooping around the hotel and develops an interest in a couple of the residents. This does not bode well at all for Cheryl.

The best thing about this movie is the cast of oddballs. They are a bunch of interesting characters, and they’re all played very well. Quite a cast was assembled here. First we have Cheryl. Ayn Ruymen strikes a delicate balance between innocent and seductive. The actress was 25 at the time of shooting, but with the way she portrays fascination and curiosity, you think she’s much younger. As a matter of fact, I thought she really was as young as she plays here until she did a nude scene, so I knew she had to be at least 18. Aunt Martha, played by Lucille Benson (Halloween 2), is excellent. Her delivery reminds me a bit of Zelda Rubenstein. We think she’s just a crotchety old matron until she starts talking more and we realize that she’s just as nutty as the rest of them. George is a photographer with a thing for water filled blow up dolls, and that’s not his biggest quirk by a long shot. Loony old Ms. Quigley thinks Cheryl is someone named Alice. Mr. Lovejoy is a raging alcoholic with a penchant for opera singing. Laurie Main is excellent as Reverend Moon, who is jovial enough, but creepy as hell. I’m not 100% sure on this one, but after doing a little research I think he might have been the first gay priest character in a major motion picture. The hotel itself is a character. It’s so seedy yet stately that it adds to the proceedings immeasurably.

This film is more of a character study and a slow burn descent into weirdness than a straight ahead horror flick. There are a couple of gory scenes, but they almost feel tacked on. For the first part of the film, we’re just watching Cheryl enter into this wonderland of insanity. We know this isn’t going to end well for her, and we’re just watching her uncover more and more secrets as we wonder which one of the loonies she will finally run afoul of. Then again, it could be Judy or her boyfriend, who come looking for her, who does Cheryl in. Later, when Cheryl zeroes in on one character, it’s almost agonizing watching the two on a collision course. The final 10 minutes of the movie, containing two major twists, will have you staring slack jawed at the screen until the end of the credits.

One thing I don’t talk about a lot on this blog is technical specifications. I’m not a stickler for high def or audio tracks or any of that stuff. I love my VHS. I can’t stand blu-ray actually. That being said, the transfer on this DVD looks incredible! The color scheme is very deliberate in this movie, almost Argento-like in some parts. The use of darkness in the framing is also. The clarity and depth of the blacks and colors on this DVD are truly impressive for a small release DVD. I can tell by my old VHS copy that MGM really put a lot into the remastering process. Kudos.

Normally, in a situation like this, I would put a trailer for the film in the post. I implore you, however, not to watch the trailer before you watch the film. I’ve said before that these days trailers contain way too many spoilers, but apparently that’s been a problem since the 70’s. The trailer will ruin the whole movie for you. Trust me, this one’s too good to ruin. For that matter, don’t read the back of the DVD. What the hell is wrong with these people giving it all away before hand? I don’t get it. What I do get is this movie, and I hope you get it too, because it deserves a much bigger audience. Oh, by the way, for you fellow VHS collectors, it was also released under the name Blood Relations. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 27 - Your favorite guilty pleasure

I was taught by Mistress Amy, a woman I have the utmost respect for, that “In the pursuit of pleasure there is no guilt.” In other words, never feel ashamed of what you’re into. I’ve lived by those words ever since. Since I don’t really believe in “guilty pleasures”, I guess the closest thing for me would be those “so bad they’re good” movies. Nothing epitomizes the “so bad it’s good” aesthetic in modern films like Syfy original films. Not just Syfy originals, but the giant animal/monster/hybrid beastie Syfy originals. Fun stuff like Mansquito, Frankenfish, and Dinocroc. They are a sub-genre of their own. Since I can’t write about a whole sub genre, I’ll have to pick one. That is a daunting task, but there is one movie that stands head and fins above the rest as the ultimate Syfy Original flick, the all mighty Sharktopus.

My love for this movie probably exceeds sane and healthy levels. In fact, it was number 7 on my 2010 top 10. Just look at the team who brought this flick to us. It was written by Mike MacLean, who also wrote Dinocroc vs. Supergator and the upcoming Piranhaconda. It was directed by Declan O’Brian, who also did Rock Monster, Monster Ark, and the impressively bad Cyclops. It was distributed by Syfy/Anchor Bay, who graced us with beautiful crap like Mega Piranha and Mongolian Death Worm. If that’s not enough schlock pedigree for ya, it was produced by the master himself, Roger Corman. Yes, Galaxy of Terror Roger Corman. Piranha Roger Corman. Pit and the Pendulum Roger Corman. Death Race 2000 Roger Corman. 396 producer credits Roger Corman. Lifetime achievement Oscar Roger Corman. Have I made my point?

Basically, the navy has created a new biological weapon. He’s half shark, half octopus, and 100% AWESOME! Would you believe that it breaks free and runs amok? I know, unthinkable! It’s up the scientist who made him, his daughter, and a “bad boy with a heart of gold” rogue ex Navy Seal to stop the tentacled fury.

This movie is nonstop schlock and cheese and makes no bones about it. It’s pure VDOP. For those who just joined us, that’s Vulgar Display of Cheese, meaning one of those movies that revels in its own cheese. That’s the last time I’m gonna explain that term. I may rant and rave elsewhere (a lot) about bad CGI. In these flicks, however, it’s expected. The worse the better. It’s the new millennium equivalent of the bad rubber monster suit in the 50’s creature features. In this one, it’s BAD!

The acting is, well, interesting. It’s no wonder Eric Roberts ended up on Celebrity Rehab. He slurs his way through this flick like he had to be tanked to get through this movie. The audience just might feel the same way. Most of the rest of the main cast is somewhat passable. The extras are the really fun ones though. Watch for the “Oh my God” guy in the fire dance scene and the bearded painter on the scaffold’s death scene for two examples of the most hilariously awful acting since Ed Wood’s angora heyday.

The plot? Yeah right. Nothing in this movie makes any sense at all. Let’s just hit a few highlights. If Sharktopus is bullet proof, why do you shoot at him for half of the movie? Furthermore, why do you freak out when you’re out of ammo? How, pray tell, does a half shark half octopus walk on land? For that matter, how does it roar like a lion? How did you conveniently forget that there’s a computer program to kill it until the final 10 minutes after he’s killed 50 or so people. What the hell was with that ripping off the shirt Rambo move before you went to fight the monster with a stick? Must be the same thing that was behind the classic “shake your fist at the sky and scream ‘Noooooooooooo’” moment.

This movie is a hell of a lot of fun. It has quite a bit of blood for a TV movie. A surprising amount actually. Roger Corman’s cameo is priceless. It has one of the most original B movie monsters ever conceived. It even has a 50’s style surf rock theme song that is about 71 different kinds of bad ass. Check it out…

If you want to see just how much of a cultural impact this movie has had, go Google Sharktopus tattoo. That one in this pic isn’t the only one. Since it premiered last September, I have been on a mission to make all of my friends watch it. At Netherworld, the greatest haunted attraction in the world (where I coincidentally work), it became a joke to tell the new actors “go ask Nathan about Sharktopus” just to see the look on their face when I launched into the “MUTHAF***IN’ SHARKTOPUS BABY!” spiel. Normally, with a “guilty pleasure” movie, …actually, I’m gonna interrupt the article right here. The phone just rang as I was typing. It was Leah. I told her I’m writing about Sharktopus. The laughed that “shaking my head and rolling my eyes” laugh and informed me that I love that movie way too much. See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. No one else seems to get it, but to me it’s schlock nirvana. Eight severed tentac…I mean two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 26 - Your favorite horror film to watch as a child

I didn’t watch horror movies as a child. I was a brainwashed little holy roller and thought they were evil. When we talk about horror flicks I watched as a “kid,” we’re talking about my teens. I didn’t have a VCR until I was 16, so I couldn’t really rent movies. When I got one, I taped them off of TV. There was one tape in particular that I watched all the time. It had 2 movies on it, both taped off of Monstervision. I know I’ve talked a lot about Monstervision in the last couple of posts, but I’m going to do it one more time. I can’t help it, it figures into a lot of my favorites. One of the flicks on the tape was the remake of Night of the Living Dead, but I already used that for Day 17. The other was Phantasm 2.

Phantasm is one of a handful of series where I like the second one best. We won’t go into the others, because that’s a controversy for another time. I’m not going to even attempt to give you a plot summary for this one. Why? Because it doesn’t make a damn lick of sense! It doesn’t matter though, because as Phantasm fans know, trying to figure out what the hell is going on is half the fun. First of all, one of the leads is recast for this one, Tuesday Knight style. James LeGros is a pretty good actor, but he just wasn’t right for the role of Mike, played in the other 3 films by Michael Baldwin. He was a little too buff and a little too tough. Sorry. The incomparable Reggie Bannister is back though. Since this movie came 8 years after the original, he gets the films “Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween 2” moment. Reggie and Mike are sitting by the fire. Mike goes upstairs and is grabbed by the Tall Man, thankfully still played by Angus Scrimm. Reggie hears a noise and gets up to investigate, magically looking 10 years older than he did 20 seconds ago. It’s a Phantasm movie though, so we don’t question it. Whatever you say Don.

It seems like Don Coscarelli came up with a bunch of ideas for cool scenes and came up with a way to string them together later. Those cool scenes, though, are cool enough that the incomprehensible plot is forgivable without a second thought. We have Reggie and Mike getting all A-Team in a hardware store; building a giant homemade flame thrower and a four barrel shotgun. I’ll repeat that, A F’N FOUR BARREL SHOTGUN! That flame thrower gets used to light a fireplace by the way. There’s an epic chainsaw duel. I love a good chainsaw duel. There’s a bad ass car. There are cool vast empty graveyards. There’s one of the funniest sex scenes of all time. The demon Jawas are back. The silver balls are back. Ever since I was a young boy...nevermind. This time, though, there’s a gold ball. No, I’m not going to tell you, you have to see for yourself. I mean hell, look at that picture. You definitely don’t want that ball in your mouth. Sorry folks, it’s impossible to write about Phantasm and not make one ball joke. Anyway, it’s got everything you expect from a Phantasm flick, with some 80’s action flick tropes thrown in. Who could ask for anything more?

This tape was made extra cool by the commentary of Joe Bob Briggs. Just ‘cause I’m a nice guy, here’s the intro and commercial break commentaries.

I used to be able to recite both Hemicuda speeches word for word.

I was little schoolgirl level excited when I heard that this was finally coming out on DVD. I already had Phantasm and Phantasm 3, and the discs were loaded with extras. I had read about all the cool stuff on the Region 2 release. They got commentary, convention appearances, TV spots, bios, trailers, photo galleries, the whole 9. Imagine my pissedoffedness (it’s a word ‘cause I say so) when I saw that in the US all we got was a lousy trailer. The DVD release blows, hopefully they’re gonna double dip on this one, ‘cause I’m waiting for a good release to update my VHS. Two severed thumbs up for the movie itself. Nathan says check it out. Or, if you’re like me, check it out again and again and again…

Monday, April 25, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 25 - A horror film that you used to hate, but now like

This film was an interesting case because I liked it, then hated it, and now like it again. Admittedly, my years of hating on Scream were not fair. I’ve always said that you must judge a film on its merit alone. Scream was actually pretty good. My hatred for the movie wasn’t really based on the film itself, but on people’s reactions to it and the mile long trail of crap that it spawned. It was a bit of hypocrisy on my part. I do recognize it now for what it was; a very astute satire of the slasher genre.

I was 16 when Scream came out. Me and nearly the entire drama department of South Gwinnett High School went to see it one night. I dug it. I liked the way they acknowledged the clichés of the genre and made them key points of the story. I completely identified with Jamie Kennedy’s character, as I was the horror geek/walking encyclopedia of my group of friends. I liked the way it was basically a “who dunnit” mystery with some slasher aspects thrown in. The gore was pretty subdued, but there were a couple of fun messy moments. The cast did a good job, featuring some of the more unique standouts of the late 90’s teen TV crowd. I definitely enjoyed Rose McGowen’s sweater. It even had a pretty good soundtrack. All in all, it was a really fun satire of the horror genre.

Sorry. I had to.

Then, I started to notice something. My classmates were describing Scream as “the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.” They were talking about it like it was a straight up horror flick. This was my first real moment of clarity regarding the mainstream audience’s complete lack of taste when it comes to horror. All the preppie kids that young black trench coat clad Nathan hated were talking about how this was what a good horror movie was. It was so much better than “that old crap.” This did not sit well with me, a young horror fan who already knew his stuff. Not to mention being a high school boy, I was naturally full of piss and vinegar and harder than hardcore about everything. I knew it was a horror/mystery/comedy, but it seemed no one else did. Apparently, only a parody like Scary Movie would register in their minds as comedy. In my view, Scream had poisoned everyone’s mind against the classics that I loved.

Then, the never ending procession of copycats started. I Know What You Did Last Summer. Urban Legend. Valentine. The Faculty. Carrie 2. Soul Survivors. Disturbing Behavior. Scream 2. Scream 3. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. The so called “late 90’s slasher craze” was in full swing. People would say “aren’t you happy? Horror movies are “in” again. No, teenybopper crap horror is in. Movies that were figuratively and literally gutless. There was no gore, there was no gratuitous nudity, there was no sense of fun, and there was no uniqueness to the plot. In other words, nothing that made the slasher flicks of the 80’s great. All we had was bad acting by cookie cutter WB actors and everyone trying to write like Kevin Williamson. It was like a long episode of Dawson’s Creek, but one of the pretty boys was in a mask. Basically, we were treated to hundreds of Scream clones minus the intelligence. The style even crept into franchises I liked, such as in the case of Halloween H20. I loathe the mainstream horror of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and in my mind it was Scream’s fault for starting all of that.

Scream was my pariah. It was the film that had ruined horror movies in my generation. It also happened to be the movie everyone bought or got for Christmas in 1997. For the next year, it was on in the background of every party I went to. Any time anyone said they wanted to watch a horror movie, that one was the flick that got popped in the VCR. I probably saw Scream at least 50 times that year. The hatred grew.

Years went past and I tried to put the whole “90’s slasher craze” out of my mind. Scream was an anathema; I never owned it and refused to watch it. When I was collecting the Movie Maniacs figures, Ghostface was the one I refused to buy. Any time a movie lacked substance, I compared it to Scream. Then, a couple of years ago, I was flipping through the channels and ended up stopping on Scream. Before I realized it, I had watched the entire movie. Not only that, but I enjoyed it. After a few years of not seeing it, I was able to look at it with a fresher perspective. It’s a damn good flick. All of its imitators sucked, and a lot of the audience completely missed the point, but Scream can’t be held responsible for that. Scream 2 and 3 both are still awful, but not the original. It still stands up as a good mystery/horror satire. Scream, I apologise for all the years of animosity and harsh words between us. Let’s just let bygones be bygones, ok? I’m still iffy on Scream 4 though. I think I’ll wait for the 1.99 theater for that one. I’m still only giving it one and a half severed thumbs up, ‘cause old grudges die hard. Nathan says check it out.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 24 - Horror film in which you perfer the edited version over the director's cut

I tried folks. I really tried. I just couldn’t come up with a horror movie where I liked the edited version better than the directors cut. I’m a directors cut kinda guy. If there is one available, 95 times out of 100 that’s the version I own and the version I know. Who should have final cut is a debate for another time. Right now I’m just talking about my personal taste. I don’t really bother watching edited versions unless I happen to be watching it on TV. I was wracking my brain on this one. The Exorcist? No, the original is better than the “Version you never saw” in almost every way. All those foreign horror flicks that were edited for their release in the United States? Not by a long shot. I want every last drop of blood. I want all the inane dialogue. I want it all man! I saw a lot of people going with Army of Darkness. I will admit to having never seen the director’s cut version. I will state, for the record, I do like the S-Mart ending better. I also would say Alien, but Ridley Scott said on the commentary that the theatrical version was his director’s cut, and that he recut it only at the behest of the studio for a new DVD and prefers the original. That’s not even really a director’s cut.

What does drive me crazy though, are retroactive directors cuts. When a movie is loved by fans the way it is, don’t go back 20 or 30 years later and change it. Any work of art is a reflection of its times and the artist’s perspective at that point. Going back and “modernizing” a film, or altering it that far after the fact destroys the film as a time capsule of when it was made. Of course, public enemy number one for this particular offense is George Lucas. When he added a bunch of crappy CGI to the Star Wars trilogy, changed the music, and screwed around with the story, he obliterated a lot of its charm. So much ink has been spilled about that particular issue, however, that I’m not going to go into it here. Han Solo did shoot first though.

I’m going to pick a movie that isn’t horror, but is oven lumped in with horror into the “cult classics” catch-all moniker. After all, I did see it for the first time on Monstervision. I’m talking about The Warriors. I’m sure we all know the plot, so I’m not going to bother. I love this movie. It is a comic book style thrill ride, and that is evident in the movie. In the “Ultimate Director’s Cut” it becomes explicit, and destroys the flick. The wipe pans, the outlandish costumes, and the stylized violence already gave it a comic book like feel, but for some ungodly reason Walter Hill decided to go back and insert actual comic book art frames into the movie. The wipe pans that were part of the film’s style are replaced by awkward dissolving to a drawn panel. It also changes the whole feel of the movie. In a film like Creepshow, it’s supposed to have the feel of a comic come to life. While The Warriors does have many comic book-esque elements, in the original cut it is balanced by a certain grittiness. Its atmosphere walks a fine line between over the top and ultra realistic. The comic frames take that fine line that was so deftly executed and take a big steaming dump on it.

He even inserts these illustrated frames in places where it completely interrupts the flow of a scene. For example, when The Warriors come out of the subway laughing and celebrating only to freeze when confronted by the Furies. The abrupt stop, looks on the Warriors faces, and cutting back and forth between the two gangs builds the moment before the chase begins beautifully. In the director’s cut, the shot of Ajax looking pensive becomes a drawn panel, complete with an idiotic “Oh Shit” caption. Instead of just showing the Furies in all their glory, twirling their bats and silently waiting to pounce, we see them in a comic book frame with “THE BASEBALL FURIES!” in big letters. One of the best scenes in the flick is replaced by a series of bad drawings. Just dumb.

I think the thing that pissed me off the most, though, was the ending. In the original cut, while Joe Walsh’s song In the City plays, the Warriors walk down the beach into the sunset until they disappear over the horizon while the credits. It’s a beautiful symbolic image and is quite effective after all the violence. In the director’s cut, after about 10 seconds, the shot freezes and, you guessed it, turns into a damn comic. LAME!

I’m not even going to go into the pointless new optical zooms or the ridiculous new prologue. Those stupid comic book scenes are enough. Walter Hill, I will always respect you. After all, not only did you direct one of my favorite films of all time in The Warriors, but you directed Southern Comfort and my favorite Tales from the Crypt episode. So, with all due respect, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING? The original version gets two severed thumbs as high up as possible. The director’s cut gets one up and one down, because, after all, it is still The Warriors. Nathan says go to ebay, find a copy of the original DVD release, and check it out.

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 23 - Your favorite made for TV horror film

First of all, I am aware that I’m a little bit late with today’s post. Sorry, it’s been a hell of a day. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me throw two names out and you tell me what you think of first. Stephen King and Clive Barker. Whatever you just thought, I bet it wasn’t “horror comedy.” That’s exactly what we have here though folks. Take stories by Barker and King, adapt them for TV, let Mick Garris direct, throw in Christopher Lloyd all gothed up, and what do you have? Just another Friday night at my…wait, no…I mean you have my favorite TV horror flick, Quicksilver Highway.

We open on a bride on her wedding night. No, it’s not that kind of story. Get your mind out of the gutter. She’s sitting in a broken down car in the middle of the desert, waiting for her groom, who went to find help, to return. A Rolls Royce pulls up towing an Airstream camper. That should have been her first clue that something screwy was going on. Then Christopher Lloyd, looking like the mutant love child of Dani Filth and Uncle Fester, gets out and invites her into his parlor. Clue number two. He proceeds to tell her a story based on The Chattering Teeth by Stephen King. I know the concept of Mick Garris directing a King adaptation is blowing your mind, but bear with me here folks. Bill is a traveling salesman traveling salesman driving through the desert in a dust storm. He almost hits a Brian, a hitch hiker. He decides to stop in at a roadside diner/gas station, where he buys a big set of metal wind up chattering teeth for his son. As he’s leaving, he sees the hitcher he almost flattened and offers him a ride. As the ride goes south, the hitcher pulls a knife and tries to commandeer the van. Bill swerves and crashes. Brian then decides it’s time to kill Bill. I thought about making a David Carradine joke there, but that would just be in poor taste, now wouldn’t it? Anyway, who comes to Bill’s rescue? That’s right, the chattering teeth!

Story two opens in a carnival. A pickpocket stumbles into Quicksilver’s tent to hide from the cops, and is told a story based on The Body Politic by Clive Barker. Dr. Charles is a plastic surgeon. He also looks a lot like our pick pocket. Could be because they’re played by the same actor, the always awesome Matt Frewer. His hands turn against him Evil Dead style. After almost killing Charles driving home and strangling his wife, the hands decide that one of them should be free to recruit more hands for the revolution, so righty chops lefty off. An epidemic of evil hands ensues, and only Charles can put a stop to the madness.

If you read reviews online of this movie, you’ll see a lot of people downing it for not being very scary. Just from a synopsis of the stories, I think it’s obvious that none of this is supposed to be taken seriously. A guy gets killed by wind up teeth. The hands have cartoon voices and talk to each other for crying out loud. In the hospital in the second story, we have an entire hospital wing having a titanic battle with their hands. It’s hilarious! Does it work as a straight up horror flick? Not really. As an outlandish horror comedy? Absolutely! It’s also impossible to take the amazingly AWFUL CGI crawling severed hands seriously, but that’s beside the point.

One thing that is of particular note in this flick is the acting. Christopher Lloyd plays creepy so incredibly well. I don’t know about the Doc Brown Hot Topic makeover look, but this character could easily carry an anthology TV series. I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie was actually conceived as a pilot. Both of the leads in the first story, Raphael Sbarge as Bill and Silas Weir Mitchell as Brian, are great. I think Silas might have been a little too good though. He’s so creepy that it’s hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would let him into their car. Matt Frewer is great, which is to be expected. The scenes of him fighting with his hands will have you crying with laughter, but his moment of “I’m watching my hands kill my wife and I can’t stop them” is actually pretty heart wrenching. You can tell that he’s really relishing the opportunity to ham it up. Interestingly, Stephen King foregoes his usual cameo. Clive Barker doesn’t, however, and is in a pretty amusing scene with John Landis.

Sometimes I think people get so caught up in horror being intense, meaningful, and terrifying that they forget that it’s supposed to be fun too. It’s ok to be silly sometimes. Sure, you don’t want too much comic relief if your movie is supposed to be a spine tingling thrill ride, but a movie can’t be bad just because it’s goofy. Quicksilver Highway is horror comedy, but it doesn’t have jokes. It has a premise so out there and bizarre that it’s funny because it’s played fairly straight. The good source material, great acting, and competent direction make this one a fun ride. After all, isn’t that what a movie is supposed to be? It’s a bit tough to find, but it’s worth it. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Friday, April 22, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 22 - Your favorite horror themed TV show

There have been many horror TV shows I have loved over the years. Elvira’s Movie Macabre, Tales From The Crypt, Tales From The Darkside, Supernatural, and Twilight Zone are among my favorites. There is one show, however, that is sacred. It had a profound effect on me as I began my journey into horror geek-hood. I saw many of my favorite films for the first time on that show. Of course, I could only be speaking of TNT’s Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs. (insert heavenly choir sound effect here.)

Monstervision was a show on the TNT network that ran from March 1993 until September 2000. I discovered it in late 1994. Late on Saturday nights, they would show cheesy monster movies like the Godzilla flicks, The Blob, Them, etc. Sometimes Penn and Teller would guest host. Then, in 1995, Joe Bob Briggs took over as host. This brought along some major changes. They started showing all kinds of horror, drive-in, grindhouse, and cult films. It became a double feature each week. The main change though, was Joe Bob himself.

Joe Bob would sit in his lounge chair outside of his trailer, drinkin’ beer and talkin’movies. He’d set the flick up that they were about to show, and then chime in each time they came back from a commercial. He was a wealth of knowledge, giving you anecdotes from on set, stories about the release of the films, and adding his own brand of humor. He was absolutely hilarious. He would point out the ridiculous things about a flick. He would also gush about the gore, nudity, and everything else all of the horror fans watching loved. He would make fun of TNT, bitching about them censoring his movies and, when he had to show a movie that wasn’t quite Monstervision material, letting you know in no uncertain terms that he was showing it against his will. He would also have guests. He interviewed Linnea Quigley when they showed Return of the Living Dead and Wes Craven when they showed New Nightmare for example.

Joe Bob was a special kind of horror host. He wasn’t some ghoulish character, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sure, his horror redneck persona was played to the hilt, but he was a rabid horror fan. I know this sounds maudlin and sappy, but he became almost a mentor figure to me. Some people had that one guy at the video store they got all of their horror recommendations and advice from. Some people had a cool big brother or uncle that showed them that kind of stuff. I had Joe Bob. Each week he showed me something or told me something new about horror. As a kid with a voracious appetite for horror, it was everything I could ask for. He also gave us the “Drive-in Totals” for each movie. He would whet our appetites for the coming feature by telling us what we would, or sometimes wouldn’t, be seeing, even listing them on screen. Here’s an example from a showing of Return of the Living Dead…

“We have Nineteen dead bodies, plus some fragments. Ten breasts. Shame on you, TNT censors! Two zombie breasts. One-hundred twenty-five zombies. Mummy dogs. One-half zombie dog. Ten gallons of blood. Brain-eating. Gratuitous embalming. Nekkid punk-rocker fondue. Gratuitous midget zombie. Torso S&M. One motor vehicle chase, totaled by zombies. Heads roll. Brains roll. Arms roll. Hands roll. We’re talkin’ 4 stars. Check it out."

…with a setup like that, who wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to see it?

I couldn’t begin to name all of the classic fright films that I saw for the first time on Monstervision; films like Phantasm 1 and 2, Return of the Living Dead 1 and 2, NOTLD90, The Omen, Salem’s Lot, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Troll, From Beyond, Creepshow, Carrie, Waxwork, Motel Hell, and They Live. That list could go on and on for days. They also showed great movies that didn’t fit into the horror genre, but appealed to the horror crowd. Movies like The Warriors, Red Sonja, Shaft, Beastmaster, Surviving the Game, Willy Wonka, and Spaceballs.

Monstervision was the reason that if I didn’t have anything to do that particular Saturday night, I wasn’t really all that concerned. When I was out partying, I taped it. Not with a DVR, with a VCR. Old school baby! I remember Halloween night 1998. I was 18. Joe Bob was doing a Friday the 13th dusk ‘til dawn marathon. As I got costumed up and did my makeup (I was a possessed priest that year), I watched Friday 1 and laughed at Joe Bob’s antics. After I walked into the house from making the rounds of the parties, or more accurately, when I staggered into the house, Joe Bob, me, and Jason hung out in Manhattan as I passed out. Good times man.

Sometime in 1999, the higher ups at TNT changed the format. It became “Joe Bob's Hollywood Saturday Night and Monstervision.” The first movie every night was Hollywood fare. Stuff like Tootsie, The American President, Top Gun, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The second was still usually a horror movie, but it wasn’t the same. The set changed to a living room, then a diner. Joe Bob was still the man, but they had gotten rid of his peripheral characters, like Reno and Dusty, the mail girls. I still watched loyally, but apparently the magic was gone. Joe Bob left as the host in July 2000. The show limped to a halt in September. It was the end of a great era.

One day I will write a complete retrospective about Joe Bob Briggs. Joe Bob had quite a career before and after Monstervision, but that show was an integral part of my adolescence. I highly recommend any of his books, particularly Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-in and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-in. He also contributes commentary tracks to DVDs. Do yourself a favor and track one down. Talk to a horror fan in their 50s or 60s, and they will all tell you their interest in the genre came from watching Shock Theater or a similar show. For me, and a lot of other kids coming up in the southeast in the mid 90’s, that show was Monstervision.

Some people have commented about my blog always ending with the line “Nathan says check it out.” That’s not just me being a pretentious jackass and referring to myself in the third person. Joe Bob, in his newspaper column, always ended with “Joe Bob says check it out.” My variation on that tagline is meant as an homage to Joe Bob. Monstervision gets two severed thumbs up, and a special place in my cold, black heart. Nathan says go to youtube, type in Monstervision, and check it out.

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