Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: Scream 4

I really miss Metallica. The good Metallica. The Master of Puppets Metallica. I used to absolutely love that band. I can hear you all asking "What the hell does that have to do with Scream 4?" Let me explain. Recently I was watching a Metallica concert on TV. It goes without saying that the new songs sucked because, well, every album since the black album has sucked. When they played their early, great songs, however, it just wasn’t the same. It should have been. It’s the same song I used to love. For the most part it’s the same people playing it. Something just didn’t ring true. I likened it to listening to a pretty good Metallica tribute band. It still sounded good, but the magic just wasn’t there. This is similar to my experience watching Scream 4. See, I told you I was going somewhere with that.

Scream was fun because it was smart. Scream 4, in places, isn’t so much smart as it’s just snarky for snark’s sake. Kevin Williamson’s script for the first film had the tone of a horror fan writing a movie for horror fans. Scream 4, in parts, almost comes across as Williamson being bitter towards the genre. Sure, there are some spot on moments of critique, such as the first five minutes , the conversation in the police car, or the one “new” rule that actually pays off in a scene (you’ll know the one), but for the most part it’s almost the film campaigning against itself. I think the problem here is that there is a definite difference between weaving the “horror rules” into a good narrative and turning them on their heads, and simply acknowledging the clichés. Scream 4 falls into the trap of taking jabs at the conventions of the horror genre like the first one, but not using them to create a compelling twist. The first Scream had a really good whodunit story to mix with the self referential jabs. Scream 4’s plot is…well…same old same old. The horror “inside jokes” in Scream 4 basically exist separate from the plot as a whole. Scream took the tropes, inverted them, and served them up in a way you didn’t expect. Scream 4 throws a lot of criticism of the trappings of new millennium horror at you, and then just gives you business as usual. It also felt a little wrong watching a film that makes fun of and derides remakes, knowing that Wes Craven directed it. I’m sure you know what I’m getting at there.

Don’t let this talk of Scream 4 falling short of the bar Scream set scare you off though, there is a lot to like about this film. The acting is one. With the exception of Nico Tortorella, the young cast does a great job. That was one thing I worried about going into this film. One of the strengths of Scream was its cast. As the series went on, the quality of the young cast members took a nosedive, as did the quality of the movies themselves. With some of the awful acting I’ve seen out of the current crop of up and comers, I was expecting the worst. These kids were downright watchable though. Hayden Panettiere as the horror geek hottie was particularly good. Erik Knudsen and Rory Culkin (yes, Macauley’s little brother) were also great as the media obsessed leaders of the “Cinema Club.” There is one scene in particular between Hayden and Rory that is incredibly well done and is a little bit of a “lonely high school film dork” revenge fantasy come true. Courtney Cox is excellent, David Arquette is passable, but Neve Campbell seems to be sleepwalking through her scenes. Hers was the only really disappointing performance.

There were also a couple of cool kills. The Scream franchise has never been known for its particularly grisly or creative bloodletting. There’s only so much you can do with a knife. Most of the kills in this one are the usual stabbings and slicings, but a couple rise above the limitations of the weapon and are entertaining. As usual, the proceedings are slightly marred by some CGI blood, but a lot of it was the old school “letting the food coloring and corn syrup fly” variety, which is always nice to see.

Aside from the acting and violence, the film is a mixed bag. Just like in the original, the pre-credit scene is the best part of the film. I won’t give anything away, but it’s brilliant. The humor in this flick was a little bit of a problem for me. Scream’s humor was built on clever dialogue. Some of this is present in Scream 4, but some of it was just cheap laugh lines and one particularly slapstick scene that just felt completely out of place. The soundtrack was awful. There are a lot of really cool classic movie posters seen decorating various locales throughout the film. The “Stab-athon” looks like my kind of party. I had part of the final reveal figured out, but there was another part that caught me by surprise, and any time a film can surprise me with the identity of a killer I give it major points. Let’s see, is there anything else…OH YEAH! One thing that irked me on a horror geek level. One of the questions Ghostface asks is “Name the film that started the slasher craze.” His answer is Peeping Tom. While that movie did have an early effect on the formation of the genre, it was Halloween that started the craze. You could make a case for Black Christmas too. There were no compcat knockoffs of Peeping Tom. The slasher genre didn’t even become popular until almost 20 years later. So there. I know that’s nitpicky, but what good is being a horror geek if you can’t out geek the pros?

While this movie may have failed at some of the things the first Scream excelled at, it is still an enjoyable ride for fans of the original. I definitely recommend it, but you must keep your expectations realistic. I had a good time watching it, even though I couldn’t help feeling like Scream was a bit of a shell of its former self. If I were to rank it in the series based on quality, I’d say that it’s not as good as the first one but it was most definitely better than Scream 2 and 3. To continue the band comparison, it’s like going to a reunion concert of a band you loved as a teenager. They might not be able to match the intensity they once had, but you’re still going to have a good time.

One last thing before I finish driving the Metallica analogy into the ground. I give every new album they put out a listen at least once. I am hoping beyond hope for a return to form. I want to hear hints of their former brilliance. That hasn’t happened yet. I treat Wes Craven films the same way. I still watch them, hoping to see a glimpse of the man that made The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, and Nightmare on Elm Street. I wouldn’t say that Scream 4 is a return to form per se for one of the masters of the craft, but after Red Eye, Cursed, My Soul to Take, etc, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Prophecy: Video Stores Will Rise From The Grave

Prophecy seems to be in these days, what with the whole rapture thing, so I am here today, my friends, to offer a bold prediction for the future. In a post from last week I more or less conceded that the video store is effectively dead. There are a couple of hold outs, but by and large the great American institution has died out. The video store may be gasping its dying breath, but I tell you my brothers, it will rise again. Like Jason or Michael Myers, just when we think it’s finally stopped twitching, it will return. It will be changed, but it will be alive. ALIVE! ALIIIIIIIIIIVE! Sorry, got carried away.
Come with me as I gaze into my crystal ball and foretell the future. Didn’t know I had one of these, did ya? Well, shut the door, cut the lights, join hands, and concentrate. Ah, I can see it clearly now. Once Ballbuster Video finally admits defeat, and I plunder the rest of their store closing sales, video stores will fall into a period of dormancy. The age of kiosks, subscriptions by mail, and video on demand will have begun. Then, slowly but surely, something strange will happen. People will begin to miss video stores. They will want a particular movie that the “new release” kiosks don’t have, and won’t want to wait for it in the mail. They will try to track down the remaining video stores. Unless they live in a major city, however, they will not find one.
The call will rise up from the fringe elements of movie fans first. There will be the classic cinefile, the Turner Classic Movie watcher type, who wants to see the old movies that the major corporations like Redbox and Netflix don’t value because they aren’t viable to the mainstream. There will be the collectors, who cannot accept the idea of a movie existing without a physical copy. There will be the technophobe, who doesn’t like the idea of having to have streaming technology to watch a flick. There will be the completists, who want to see that obscure horror flick or low budget comedy that never quite made the digital jump. Then there will be those who are just plain nostalgic for the video store experience.
Thanks to this call, video stores will begin to pop up again. These will not be the video stores of old. More likely they will be specialty stores. They may cater to a specific genre or format. They might specialize in rare, hard to find movies. They may carry the low budget indy flicks that wouldn’t get a large release. The best part is that the market won’t be big enough to support a major national chain, so these will be a return to the days of the mom and pop store. Mind you, there will never be one on every corner as there used to be. Hell, they will be few and far between. The point is that they will be there. Like a zombie, they will have died and returned. Is this just wishful thinking? I don’t think so, and I’ll give you two examples to support my prediction. The large chain record store is damn near dead. Digital downloading and a refusal of the industry to change with the times led to its downfall. Sound familiar? What you do see, however, are independent record stores. These stores offer “outdated” formats like vinyl records to those who prefer analog and expose people to product that they would never see in corporate stores. These places may not be everywhere, but look in any major city or town with an arts scene and you’ll find at least a couple.
My other example is the Drive-in Theater. The drive-in’s heyday is 50 years in the past, but there is a resurgence going on. In the late 1950’s, at the height of their popularity, there were over 4,000 drive-ins in the United States. In 2010, there were 432. While this may look like a serious defeat, take into consideration that in 1990 there were less than 380. Every year since 1999 the number of Drive-ins either re-opened or built has grown. Last year it almost tripled from the year before. The Starlight Six here in Atlanta is a prime example of how a drive-in can still make it. We can’t kid ourselves that this form of cinema is viable on a large scale any more, but there is a strong underground movement to bring them back. I believe that just as a generation who grew up on drive-ins, along with a generation who wishes they could have, is fighting to keep them alive; a generation who grew up in the dusty shelves of their neighborhood video store will do the same. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.
Well, that’s my prediction folks. Video stores are pulling a Frosty, waving goodbye saying “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again some day.” I think the video store, like the great movie monsters, will never really go away for good. It just has to die for a little while to come back in a new form. The days of the convenience store rental counter may be gone, but the day of the independent “boutique” style store will be at hand. Keep in mind though folks, a glimpse of this future can be had here and now. Independent video stores do still exist. I plan to profile some in the coming months here on the blog, but you can search out these hidden treasure troves of rental goodness yourselves. Support your local video store. Joe Bob Briggs made a career out of saying “The Drive-in will never die.” That statement has proven itself true. I am saying “The Video Store will never die.” Am I a prophet or a crackpot? We’ll just have to wait and see. Just remember to always Be Kind, Rewind.
Only if we let it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bad Words: A Review of Pontypool

Ok folks, I have to rant for a minute before I get into this review. It seems that everyone has forgotten the definition of "zombie." I have heard many reviews of a movie from 2009 called Pontypool, and almost all of them described it as “putting a new twist on the zombie genre.” Therefore, when I went to watch it last night, I was expecting, oh, I dunno… zombies! Let me clue all of you in on a little something here…INFECTED LIVE HUMANS ARE NOT ZOMBIES!!! Zombies are the undead. If the person isn’t dead, and they’re just infected with something that makes them violent or cannibalistic or whatever, that person is a plague victim. That person is not a zombie. The only way a zombie can be living is if it is a voodoo zombie, but those have been absent from film for a few years now. Zombies are THE LIVING DEAD. Get that straight folks. 28 Days/Weeks Later is not a zombie movie. The Crazies is not a zombie movie. REC is not a zombie movie. Pontypool is not a zombie movie either. Period. End of story.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Pontypool has some very good things going for it. First and foremost, I give it major points for doing something that, sadly, is incredibly rare not just in horror, but in movies in general these days. It presents a fresh, new idea. It also makes the most out of its low budget and features some very good acting. It does, however, fall into the trap of giving us a great premise and doing nothing with it. The central concept is barely explained and makes very little sense. It’s a shame, because it is truly an intriguing idea.

Grant Mazzy, a talk radio personality who has been fired from his big city gig, is currently manning the mic at a small station in a small town, Pontypool. One day, in the middle of the local obits, school closings, and check ins from the “sunshine chopper” reports start coming into the station of people acting strangely and violently. The town is being quarantined. The BBC have picked up the story. Mazzy and his producers, Sydney and Laurel Ann, are holed up in the studio trying to piece the story together from reports coming in, when a doctor appears and informs them that the disease is spreading verbally. Certain words and phrases are causing people to become confused and murderous. Should they stay on the air, hoping to be rescued and maybe help people by getting the story out, or are they transmitting the disease over the airwaves themselves?

The first half of this flick is great. Downright gripping. Stephen McHattie is awesome as Mazzy. His gruff voice is perfect for the character. His role is similar to Adrienne Barbeau’s in The Fog; the DJ that carries on while the town falls apart around them. Lisa Houle and Georgianna Reilly are also excellent in the roles of the two ladies keeping the show on the air. Director Bruce McDonald crafts a brilliantly executed slow burn, keeping the three characters in an isolated, claustrophobic location. Their only link to the carnage going on around them is those calling the station. The actors portraying these callers do some great voice work. This “small cast, one location” approach is a very smart use of a low budget. Then the doctor comes into the station in a way that defies any logic, and the film goes straight to hell. He explains at length what we’ve already gathered, the whole language/virus thing. Then they spend the rest of the movie either sitting in silence waiting for the infected to go away, babbling incoherently, or making a mess of the brilliant premise by saying things like “kiss is kill” and “we have to learn to not understand.”

Like I said, the central idea of the virus being spread through the use of language, which to the best of my knowledge was first espoused by William Burroughs, may not be completely original, but it is the first time I have seen it as the central idea of a horror flick. This idea could have been explored much better however. They state that this is what is happening, but never clearly explain exactly why or how. The particulars of the disease are kept extremely vague. What they do tell us sounds like a drunken argument between majors in linguistics and philosophy. It devolves into pretension; basically feeling like the filmmakers had a good idea, so they didn’t feel they had to expand on it enough to drive an entire movie. They seem to be so impressed by how profound they think they are being that they forget to continue building a narrative around the idea. The mind numbing final scene features Mazzy and Sydney spouting some of the dumbest pseudo intellectual crap you’ve ever heard, and the very end is an incredible cop out.

I know there are some people who will say “you didn’t like it because there wasn’t much action.” On the contrary, the first half of the film, before what action there was even started, was the best part. The scene of Laurel Ann trying to break into the sound booth is great too, by the way. Others, probably the art house “intellectuals” who can’t tell the difference between pretentious pontification and sophisticated storytelling, will say “You just didn’t get it.” I do. I get where they were going, but they didn’t really explain the premise beyond “terms of endearment and baby talk make people forget how to speak and decide to kill.” Why and how this happens could have been really interesting. Also, a lot more could have been done with the whole mass communication aspect. It takes place in a radio station after all.

Due to the fact that this is “cerebral horror” and that he’s Canadian, Bruce McDonald has drawn comparisons to David Cronenberg. This is giving him way too much credit. In Cronenberg’s films, the narrative is driven by a bizarre, thought provoking, metaphoric premise. In Ponypool, the narrative crumbles under the weight of such a premise. This is nowhere near as good a movie as many people seem to think it is, but it’s not bad either. It is worth watching for the interesting idea, the three great performances, the great first half, and the couple of interesting moments towards the end. It’s just not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

All hail the independent video store! Black Lodge Video keeps tradition alive.

I know a lot of you are just like me in the fact that you miss the era of the "mom and pop" video store. Hell, with the way things are going, I know a lot of us just miss the days of the video store, period. Of course, during my time as a video store employee I worked for the corporate devil, Blockbuster and the less evil but no less corporate Hollywood Video. In fact, to date myself, I opened the box containing the first DVDs sent to Hollywood for rental. I was a part of the last generation of video store employees who had to deal with customers who wouldn't be kind and rewind. I always wished, however, that I had gotten to work in one of the non-corporate video stores.
While I never worked in one, I have spent a LOT of time in these independent stores. The ones that stocked the movies THEY thought were worth seeing. The kind that had those rare gems. The ones who offered more than the latest blockbusters. The ones with no corporate studio contracts. I used to search these stores out and spend hours perusing the shelves. There was Orbit Video on Memorial Drive where I would skip college classes and scour the store for obscure flicks I hadn't seen. There was Screenplay Video, whose 5 for $5 VHS rentals allowed me to copy their entire horror section. Oops, should I have said that out loud? There was the store by Joe's house where we discovered many of the movies that are still some of our favorites. I wish I remembered that places name. There have been many others along the way.
All of those places have two things in common. First, they all contributed greatly to my horror movie education. They had great selections, and they had the kind of employees who were always there with a "If you liked ____, then you have to see____!" My trips there were not just for entertainment, but for knowledge. The second thing they all have in common, sadly, is that they have all gone out of business. While the corporate giants started running them out of business in the late 80's, today even the biggest stores are dropping like flies in the face of Netflix, Redbox, and VOD services.

While there may be chains that I want to see die so I can laugh maniacally as I piss on their graves (not bitter at all), I sure do miss seeing these stores dotting the landscape. I miss going in even if I couldn't rent anything, just so see what all was out there. There are a few stores still keeping that flame of tradition alive however. One that I am personally familiar with is Videodrome in Atlanta. That place is great, and I recommend you all check it out. Another one is Black Lodge Video in Memphis, Tennessee. Freddy in Space, which, by the way, is a great blog (you can check it out here) recently debuted a documentary about the store called Where All The Evil Spirits Were : The Rise and Fall of Black Lodge Video. It was directed by Patrick Buttram. It explores the impact the store has had on its owners, employees, regulars, and community. It will make you long for the return of video store culture, trust me. What is most evident in the film is how much the denizens of the shop love movies and love what they do. Places like this are going away fast, and I'm glad someone decided to document the phenomenon while they can. Just to give you a heads up, there is a scene of a girl getting a tattoo where her breasts are visible. If you’re watching it somewhere that this may be a problem, watch it when you get home instead. You can also follow Black Lodge Video on Facebook HERE. Enjoy this short documentary (two severed thumbs, Nathan says check it out) and support your local independent video store!

And now, our Feature Presentation...

Where All the Evil Spirits Were: The Rise and Fall of Black Lodge Video from Patrick Buttram on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

YouTube Nostalgia: MTV's Freddy Krueger Hour 1988

This might come as a surprise to the younger readers, but there was a time when MTV didn't suck. There was a time when they had their finger on the pulse of youth culture, not just teenybopper culture. There was a time when the M standing for Music wasn't ironic. Yes, they used to show music videos. A lot of them. They also did promotional events, letting celebrities with something to plug be a guest VJ. Oh, sorry, I forgot... that means Video Jockey kids. Anyway, on August 20, 1988, MTV was taken over my a notorious, disfigured, terrifying child victimizing pedophile monster. This wasn't really anything new, they had been airing Michael Jackson videos for years, but this time was different. This time that monster was the Son of 100 Maniacs himself, Freddy Krueger. It was right before Nightmare on Elm Street 4 came out. Freddy took over MTV for an hour, showing videos and terrorizing the VJ's. I remember seeing pieces of this as a kid, before I had ever seen any of the Elm Street flicks. They also replayed this around Halloween for a few years. I've always wanted to see this in it's entirety. Imagine my surprise when, while looking on youtube for clips for the Freddy's Nightmares reviews, I ran across this. It's in five parts, but I couldn't resist sharing it with you guys. This one's for all the 80's/90's kids out there. Enjoy!

For some reason, embedding has been disabled for part 2, so here's a link:

MTV's Freddy Krueger Hour 1988 (Part 2 of 5)

Here's a link to part 5. I know, I don't get it either:

MTV's Freddy Krueger Hour 1988 (Part 5 of 5)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Freddy's Nightmares Review: Part Three

Well folks, it’s been a little while since we took a trip to good ‘ol Springwood. What do you say we drop in and find out what Freddy’s up to. This time around we’ve got Brad Pitt, some nice muscle cars, Springwoods second serial killer, gratuitous melting Gumby, and Krueger doing the most ridiculous stuff we’ve seen yet, and that includes the Wicked Witch scene in Freddy’s Dead! Intrigued? I knew you would be. By the way, if you go to youtube, some of these episodes can be viewed in their entirety.

Episode 9: Rebel Without a Car

Alex is a young boy. He just wants to leave this town, but he works at Beefy Boy and has no car to get around. He finds a car abandoned. He fixes it up real sweet, but this car has a secret and he just might be dead meat. Ok, now go back and read those 4 sentences to the tune of “18 and Life” by Skid Row. How many of you actually just did it? Those who did are the coolest readers EVER! Anyway, the second half of the episode involves Connie, Alex’s girlfriend, going off to college. She pledges a snobby sorority, and is abused by the other sisters. Will a horrible fate befall them? This is Springwood. What do you think? This is a pretty good episode. The acting is decent. We get a lot of funny as hell 80’s rocker hair and some damn cool muscle cars. We also get the awesome line “Yeah, but I give good burger.” Said with a straight face no less. Katie Barberi, who plays Connie, reminded me of a mix between Heather Lagencamp and Lisa Wilcox for some reason. I think she kinda looks like Heather with Lisa’s eyes. Either way, she gives the best performance of the episode. In addition to this being one of the more coherent episodes, it features Freddy popping out of an underwear drawer. The sight of Freddy with a pair of granny panties hanging off of his burned visage is just plain classic. Good stuff. As an added bonus, I tracked down the original commercial for this episode. Enjoy.

Episode 10: The Bride Wore Red

Gavin is getting married, but he’s getting cold feet. His friends take him out to a bar for his bachelor party. In one scene the three buddies are sitting at a table doing shots. One shot later the three buddies and a random skeleton are sitting at the table doing shots. No one ever addresses the fact that the skeleton is there and no one is dreaming yet. Um…ok. He dreams of a stripper who puts him in an iron maiden and calls him out on his fears. A mysterious woman in red appears at his wedding, and he fantasizes about a night with her which does not go as expected. The second half involves the new bride, who is melting down over her parents’ upcoming divorce. She gets her jollies by seducing married men, tying him down, taking Polaroids, and then calling their wives. Why? Because her daddy cheated and keeping his secret drove her crazy, of course. Has one of these man tracked her down for revenge, or is it only a dream? The first half of this episode is boring. BORING!!! I kept waiting for something interesting to happen and it finally did, in the second half. The second half was actually pretty entertaining, with an especially effective childhood themed dream sequence. The saving grace of this episode is Freddy’s off the wall antics. We get a Krueger-in-the-box. We have Freddy and the flaming bouquet. There’s Freddy chained to a bed talking about the “ties that bind, the chains of love.” Funny, I always pictured Freddy as a Dom. We also get Krueger, clad in huge plastic 80’s shades and a RunDMC chain, scratching on a turntable and calling himself “Rapmaster Freddy.” I tried hard to find a picture of that for you folks. I’ll keep trying. It’s great. Half of this episode is awful, half is pretty good, but the whole thing pales in comparison to the funniest Freddy moments this side of “Put that in your VCR and suck on it.”

Episode 11: Do Dreams Bleed?

What the hell are they putting in the water over there in Springwood? First Freddy, now there’s The Springwood Chopper, the city’s resident axe murderer. This town just can’t catch a break. John, the star of Springwood High’s football team, found the Chopper’s last victim, and now he’s unraveling mentally and having dreams about the Chopper killing his parents and Roni, his girlfriend. The football coach catches him trying to chop his girlfriend up, exposing that John is the Chopper…or is he? Institutionalized now, John starts calling to Roni in her dreams, telling her that he’s innocent. Could someone have set John up? Sounds like a good premise, huh? Well, it’s completely wasted. The twist is obvious from the first 5 minutes, and then they even screw that up in the end. There are long periods of time where absolutely nothing happens, and there are a couple of scenes that happen over and over. They beat you over the head with an obvious twist, and then don’t pay it off. The only thing that stops this episode from being boring is when it’s irritating. It’s a pity too, the story had potential. Feel free to skip this episode.

Episode 12: The End of the World

Amy’s mother had a terrible accident and died when Amy was just a little girl. Her best friend may or may not have been paralyzed in the same accident. That’s the world of Freddy’s Nightmares folks. Things don’t ever just happen, they “may or may not” happen. Screw logic. Anyway, she discovers that by saving her mother and friend in her dream, she can alter history and save them in real life. Has she never seen any time travel movie? Her altering of history has unexpected tragic effects. Imagine that! In the second half, Amy dreams about a nuclear disaster, even discovering a classified launch code in the dream. She tells her doctor, played by George Lazenby, who is apparently no longer on Her Majesty’s secret service. He calls some buddies in the CIA, and pretty soon they want Amy to work for them, using her psychic abilities to avert a nuclear disaster. This is one of the few episodes to follow the same character throughout both halves. I guess they chose the right gal for a freaked out psychic, ‘cause Mary Kohnert, who plays Amy, is creepy. She has those psycho eyes. The kind that freak even me out. She’s a pretty good actress though. Everyone else in the second half, with the exception of Lazenby, is awful however. Especially the guys playing the CIA operatives; they may be the worst actors in the series so far, and that’s saying something. The nuclear war storyline comes off as dated and a little hokey today, but in 1987 at the height of The Cold War, it was probably timely and poignant. The episode doesn’t actually make much sense, but at this time anything involving nukes and Russia would sell. I thought it was a nice touch and nod to the cinefiles watching to cast a former James Bond in the international political intrigue episode. We also get a couple of fun cold war moments with our favorite bastard son of 100 maniacs, with a mushroom cloud coming out of Freddy’s head and Freddy riding a missile towards earth Dr. Strangelove style. Oh, let’s not forget the gratuitous random, melting, screaming Gumby I mentioned earlier. This one’s a fun episode and a good 80’s time capsule.

Episode 14: Black Tickets

I still have absolutely no idea what that title is supposed to mean. It has nothing to do with the story at all. Anyway, Rick and Miranda are having a horrible wedding night. First their car breaks down in the redneck side of Springwood. Did you know Springwood had a redneck side? Neither did I. As they walk to a pay phone, they get robbed at gunpoint by the rapping granny from The Wedding Singer and her husband. Yes, it really is her. They can’t pay the tow truck, because their parents have cut their credit cards off for eloping. The wedding night seems saved when a couple of creepy rednecks give them the honeymoon suite at their equally creepy hotel free of charge. I won’t give away the rest of the story, but it involves a Jacuzzi full of piranhas, cupid, a conveniently abandoned van, saunas, axes, and the following classic exchange…

Rick: “I killed two cops!”

Miranda: “But you were only gone 20 minutes!”

The second half involves Miranda having nightmares stemming from her fears that she may be pregnant. Her dreams include a WWII era Japanese “Post Partum Sleep Deprivation Camp for Unprepared Mothers” and a completely out of nowhere barbershop quartet number. This is definitely one of the more energetically weird and goofy episodes. Rick is played by a young Brad Pitt. This was even before Cutting Class. This episode also includes one of the worst cover-ups for a budget constraint ever. They obviously didn’t have the money to blow up a car, so it drives behind a hill and suddenly smoke rises from behind said hill. No sound effect or anything. We only know the car blew up by the black smudges on the surviving character’s face. Gotta love it. In the second half, they show two items that I believe were made especially for the show, being a cool Freddy nightlight and a Freddy coo-coo clock. If they merchandised either one of those, especially the clock, I would buy them in a heartbeat. Hint Hint New Line! This is not a technically great episode, but for the cheese lovers it doesn’t get any better. Did I mention Freddy with feathers sticking out of his head? Good stuff.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Red Riding Hood

What came over me? Was it my weakness for dark fairy tales? Was it a case of cinematic masochism? Was it sheer boredom? Was it a need to sit in a theater for $1.99, no matter what? Was it my desire to see everything that comes out (eventually) to inform you, my faithful readers? I guess it was a mixture of all of these things that made me go see Red Riding Hood tonight. Just as I suspected, the Twilight fans, who scare even me, will dig it. What surprised me is that there was a little bit for this Twilight hater to enjoy too. This is not to say that it’s good, just not the abomination I was expecting.

This is a bit of a riff on the classic fairy tale, but it doesn’t follow the story in any way. Valerie lives in a village called Daggerthorne. My, how goth of you. Anyway, a werewolf raids the town every full moon, but he and the townspeople have a bit of a truce. They leave out some tasty livestock, the wolf doesn’t eat them. One night, though, the wolf huffs and puffs and gobbles Val’s big sister down. Awful timing, cause Val is stuck in the middle of a love triangle. She’s in love with a woodcutter named Peter, but finds herself in an arranged engagement to a blacksmith named Henry. Following an unsuccessful wolf hunt, Father Solomon, a werewolf/witch hunter, is called into town to ferret out the lupine among them. The wolf appears and tears up the town, but speaks to Val, asking her to skip town with him. Now Val must figure out who the wolf is. Could it be her drunk dad, her cheating mom, or dear old Grandma? Perhaps one of her Beaus? One of the priests? Will Val find her true love? Will I ever get a good fairy tale horror flick?

Where do I start? Visually, it’s a mixed bag. The village set is very good. It is small and we see the same sites again and again, using the cramped, isolated set well. That’s about all I can say good here. As usual. CGI kills it. Everything besides the village and some of the woods is computer generated. It’s not bad necessarily, but it’s obvious. The Company of Wolves pulled off the exact look you were going for in 1984 with just practical effects and built sets. You have no excuse. The wolf itself looked awful. Actually, in a couple of shots it looks ok, but then it moves. The trees in the forest have big wooden spikes on them. What? It looks idiotic. If you were just trying to convey that “the forest is deadly,” you failed. The spiked trees are just dumb. The score/soundtrack is horribly mismatched with the visuals. They’re going for a dreamlike fairy tale with the Twilight haze, set in a far off mythical land. Then, the clichéd electronic crap music starts. I kid you not, there’s a big romantic scene in the enchanted forest, and music you’d hear seeping out of a 13 year old Hot Topic kid’s bedroom is playing. It doesn’t mix well.

The Twilight formula is in full effect here. Virgin desperate to get it on with the mysterious, dangerous dude she’s fallen for? Check. Two men competing for a vapid waif and threatening each other? Check. In truth I’ve never seen all of Twilight, bits and pieces are all I could endure, but from what I’ve seen, it’s just more of the same. That’s not shocking at all, considering the director of this flick directed the first sparkly pseudo-vampire kiddie show. There’s actually a pretty decent story trying to push its way through all of the heavy breathing angsty teen romance though. What works is the whole wolf storyline. It’s basically the tried and true Ten Little Indians setup. The village is locked, one of us is the werewolf, and we’ve got to figure it out. I was actually kept guessing for a while. That whole aspect of the story was done well, it was just choked out by the soap opera. It’s almost enough to keep a romant-o-phobic like me interested, if you can get past the young adult romance novel going on. An example: the town is celebrating because some of them believe the wolf to be dead. Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows the wolf is going to crash the party. We have to wait for that, however, while our young lovers have a dance off. Yes, a dance off. 'Nuff said. The dialog, by the way, is mind numbingly inane. A movie like this was screaming for some Shakespearean touches, or at least a little old world style. Not here. The dialog is clumsy, uninspired, and downright generic.

Then there’s the acting. Oh man, the acting. There are three “good” actors, so we’ll start with them. Gary Oldman was pretty good. Nothing earth shattering, and we’ve seen this character many times before in other witch-hunt movies, but he’s fun. Virginia Madsen, as always, is good. She does the best she can with the small, one note character she was given. Julie Christy was good as Grandma. This is not to say that these three, who have been great elsewhere, are great here. The presence of these three didn't elevate the movie so much as the rest of the movie let them know they didn't have to try as hard. There was one “decent” actress in the flick. The very pretty Amanda Seyfried, our lead, is passable as Valerie, but she doesn’t bring the emotional depth the part should have had. She hits the right notes, but it’s just flat. In fact, that performance probably wouldn’t have seemed as good as it did had the rest of the cast not been so bad. The worst offenders were Peter and Henry. I won’t even give these guys the effort of looking up the actors names. Seriously, I have the imdb page open, but they aren’t even worth clicking on the tab for. The director, hazy visual style, and cheesy love triangle motif aren’t the only things this flick shares with Dawson’s Cree..I mean Twilight. Apparently these two guys went to the same acting school Jacob and Edward (again, not looking the actors up) did. Looking bored and constipated doesn’t count as emoting. These two guys are beyond bad school play level awful. They even have the same “it took three hours to make my hair look this messy” thing going. Honestly, there were some good chances for some emotional moments in this flick; our three young leads just weren’t capable of pulling them off. The rest of the cast is ok, and make the two irritating pretty boy “hunks” look bad, but that’s not saying a lot.

I wasn’t expecting much, and that’s what I got. I will say though, that it isn’t as bad as I feared it might be. There are a couple of good performances, and some really good ideas here. Make the juvenile love triangle a subplot instead of the main focus (or just play it out better) and rewrite the script and this could have been a decent little thriller. A severed hand is about all the gore you get, but that’s to be expected. One thing that bugs me about a lot of movies did rear its ugly head here. If you’re going to show a dead body with wounds, make the damn wounds look fatal. It drives me nuts when movies do that. Val’s sister is shown after the wolf got her, and she’s got some scratches that don’t even look like they’d need stitches! Either make fatal wounds at least look fatal, or just don’t show the body. It probably would have been more effective that way.

All in all, I know a lot of fangbangers that would really like this (I’m not naming names). Just between us guys, while it’s still out, if your girl wants to see it, take her. There are a few cool moments. It’s a date movie you may not like, but you won’t hate as much as some other stuff they could drag you to. My advice is to go for the preemptive strike with Red Riding Hood before she pulls out “we always go to YOUR movies.” It will be 100 times worse then. I took one for the team to bring you that info gentlemen. You’re welcome. Why Nathan, what big severed thumbs you have! The better to give you half of one up, my dear. Nathan says only check it out if you must.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers Day from Son of Celluloid

Son of Celluloid would like to take a moment to recognize all of the mothers out there. I mean, where would Jason have been without his mother teaching him the art of the campground killing spree? If there were no crazy mothers, what would Joan Crawford have done for the last ten years of her career? Without her mother, Reagan would never have gotten to tell a priest that his mother, um, performs fellatio in hell (family show folks). Carrie should have listened when her mom tried to warn her that they were all gonna laugh at her. Inside, Mothers Day, Cujo, The Shining, Grace, Frightmare, The People Under the Stairs, Dead Alive, The Brood; the list of great horror movie moms goes on and on. You wonderful ladies out there have the hardest job in the world, raising the next generation of horror freaks. From all of us at the blog, meaning me, to all of you, much love and respect. After all, as Norman says, a boy's best friend is his mother.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nathan almost cries during a movie: a review of Grimm Love.

I’ll be honest with you folks, it’s pretty rare that I get really emotionally involved in a movie. Instead of thinking “oh, that’s so sad” for example, I’m thinking “that was an effectively done scene.” I analyze too much I guess. In fact, there are only three movies I can ever remember crying during. One is Where the Red Fern Grows. I haven’t watched it since I was about ten and I don’t intend to ‘cause I know exactly what will happen. Number two is Phantasm 2, when they trash that beautiful Hemicuda. The third is The Muppets Take Manhattan. That “Saying Goodbye” song is just about the most heart wrenching thing ever recorded. I want it played at my funeral as they carry my casket out. Well, I had one of those rare cinematic emotional moments a couple of nights ago. I didn’t cry, but my heart strings were indeed pulled and I may have almost gotten a little misty. A Little. Maybe. The film in question is none other than Grimm Love.
Grimm Love is based on the real life case of a German man named Armin Meiwes. He had always wanted to eat someone. As luck would have it, he met Bernd Brandes, who apparently had always wanted to be eaten, in a cannibalism themed chatroom. Brandes made himself Meiwes’ willing victim, so he killed and ate him... but not before they shared a last dinner of Brandes’ severed penis. In the film, Keri Russell plays a student doing a research project about the famous case. As she gets deeper and deeper into her research, the dark world she is uncovering takes a mental toll on her. Her story is intercut with a portrayal of the two men’s lives, from childhood up through their final, bloody moments.
First off, I would like to state that the whole half of the movie with Keri Russell’s character should not have been there at all. It wasn’t needed. That has nothing to do with it being Felicity in the lead role. She wouldn’t be the first actor from a crappy TV show to transition into a good movie career. It’s not her acting, because she’s actually pretty good. It’s the fact that the life story of the cannibal and victim duo is just so well done that every time it switched back to Keri, I was angry that they disturbed the proceedings. Instead of being a viable part of the story, it became a distraction to wait through until we could get back to the good stuff. Her story had very little substance at all. In the DVD commentary, director Martin Weisz says that originally her story had much more to it, but that it ended up on the cutting room floor. I don’t know if that would have made her story interesting or not, but I doubt it would have been as interesting as the story of Armin and Bernd, who are renamed Oliver and Simon in the flick. It almost seemed as though Keri was just there to add name recognition to the poster.
I wish we had just gotten a straight ahead fictionalized biopic of the two men because this portion of the movie is brilliant. The child actors who played the two characters as boys did an excellent job. I wish this part of the film had been extended. However, the fake “old, scratched film” thing that was employed during the childhood scenes would have had to go. It’s ok for a little while, but it would have gotten tedious. Where this movie really shines is in the portrayal of the characters adult lives. It is beautifully shot. The unnecessary framing device notwithstanding, the story is told just right. The movie could have easily turned into an exploitative gorefest or a cautionary descent into the heart of darkness (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those), but here it becomes a beautiful tragic love story. No moralizing is done, and nothing is really sensationalized. The events are just told the way they occur.
The acting by Thomas Kretschmann as Oliver and Thomas Huber as Simon is downright amazing. They are the reason the “love story” aspect of the film works. In less capable hands, these would have been one note characters. These two men give these characters real personalities. We understand them in a way. We see that it’s not malice or masochism that drives these men. While eating or being eaten may not be within the realm of thought of the audience, thanks to these performances, we almost understand why they would need these things to be fulfilled. They truly bring these characters to life with a gravitas that I rarely see in a so called horror flick. There is one moment in particular that stood out in my mind. The two men are in Oliver’s house. Simon is sitting on the bed, waiting for the bottle of cough syrup he had drank to kick in as Oliver stands over him. The two men, without saying a word, share a moment that is absolutely powerful and moving. Just the look on Simons face as he looks up at Oliver is so emotionally complex that you could write essays about that single frame. There’s fear, peace, resolve, love, excitement, passion, awe, and so much more wrapped up in that one look. The phrase “getting inside a character’s head” is thrown around very easily when talking about film, but rarely have I ever seen it pulled off this skillfully.
Ok, now the moment that choked me up. This isn’t really a spoiler, but, well, you have been warned. At the film’s climax, the drugged but still fairly lucid Simon is ready to be eaten. He has gone on and on previously about how this is the moment he’s waited for his entire life and it must be perfect. Oliver has already failed at biting off Simon’s penis, a big part of Simon’s fantasy, and had to use a knife. Oliver has cooked it and they sit down together to eat it. Simon is quickly bleeding to death, and is fading fast. As he tries to take a bite, he says weakly “I can’t. It’s too tough.” Then, he slumps forward onto the table and, with the utmost despair in his weak voice, says “It was supposed to be perfect.” My god. This man has been planning to do this extreme act for as long as he can remember. He has finally found someone who understands him enough to fulfill his ultimate wish. He only gets one shot at this, and it will be both the crowning moment and culmination of his existence. It went wrong. How crushing is that? His entire life has been leading up to this moment that would have brought him both fulfillment and validation, yet he will face his last moments on earth filled with regret and disappointment. If that doesn’t get to you, if you can’t feel that, you just aren’t human. That one scene, which many have described as over the top and revolting, isn’t. If you look past the literal action and watch the human side of the drama unfold, it is quietly heartbreaking. It hit me right in the gut, and for a moment I forgot I was watching a movie and was overtaken by the emotion of the moment. I can’t remember the last that happened in a film.
I have been described by more than one person as a sick freak. I guess that might be true to an extent, and Grimm Love demonstrated this. Many people thought this film was disturbing. I thought it was beautiful. Well, at least the half without Felicity. It’s not graphic in the least. Instead, it’s a character study of two men with damaged psyches trying to find meaning in their lives, finally connecting with each other against all odds, and fulfilling each others needs despite what the world at large would think of them. In the end, isn’t that really what everyone is looking for? It's well made and incredibly well acted. It's a tearjerker really. I watched it with Leah, who cries over a movie at the drop of a dime. She made the point that most people would be horrified at this and moved by more traditional fare, and here I was having an Old Yeller moment during the penis eating cannibal scene. I can see from the character’s perspective that the murder and cannibalism weren’t acts of violence, but acts of love, and I can sympathize with their personal tragedies. What can I say? Maybe I am sick, but you wouldn’t want me any other way. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The soundtrack to your summer: Rue Morgue's Hymns from the House of Horror 2 reviewed.

Rue Morge Magazine, for my money, is the best horror magazine out there today (no offense to HorrorHound or Fango). Last year they put out an awesome compilation called Rue Morgue’s Hymns from the House of Horror. I will always be indebted to that comp for introducing me to The Creepshow. Well, Rue Morgue has graced us with another macabre mixtape. Best of all, it’s FREE! I’ll post a link at the end of the article so all of you dear readers can grab this. Hurry though, it’s only for a limited time. I just downloaded it, and I’m about to sit down for my first listen. As I do so, I’m gonna break it down track by track for you. Come along, lets take a trip through Rue Morgue’s wonderland of morbid musical delights. Ready? Alright then, let’s go…Oh, one other thing before we go. I’ve never heard of a lot of these bands, and I’m sure a lot of you haven’t either. I’ll try to describe them for you, but in doing so, I will compare them to similar bands. I’m not saying anything about the integrity of any band’s musical direction or saying they’re copying anyone. I’m only trying to give you a frame of reference. Now then, with that out of the way, let’s descend into the madness. Shall we?

1. The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – Shhh… - I’m digging this. These guys have a killer dark rock sound. If I had to describe it, I would say it’s what would happen if Queens of the Stone Age tried to write a horrorpunk song. Good stuff from a band I definitely want to hear more of. This CD is off to a good start.
2. GWAR – Zombies, March! – Um, it’s GWAR. What else do I need to say? It is a typically GWAR slice of madness, continuing with the heavier sound GWAR has employed since their War Party album. This song can also be found on their Bloody Pit of Horror album. Wait, did I just use GWAR as a noun and an adjective in the same sentence? You bet I did.
3. Corpusse – Blood Will Have Blood – Um…ok. Corpusse, who is from what I gather a Canadian performance artist/vocalist/weirdo (and those who know me know that weirdo is far from an insult in my book), rants over a looped beat. From reviews I’ve read, it’s entertaining live. Maybe the sonic bizarreness just doesn’t translate well to CD. I dunno. You keep doin’ your thing man. It’s not my cup of blood. Sorry.
4. Kill Murder Killers – The first of four fun parodies of those cheesy grindhouse trailers we all love.
5. Black Moth Super Rainbow – Born on a Day the Sun Didn’t Rise – Very poppy, kinda like Beck doing psychedelic trip hop with an electronic distorted female voice. I knew a lot of people in college that listened to bands that sounded like this. I couldn’t tell you those bands’ names, because I wasn’t into them enough to find out. I don’t dig it, but have a feeling that quite a lot of you will.
6. Memphis Morticians – 13 O’Clock Rock – Take Reverend Horton Heat style rockabilly, give it a punk rock sneer and a horror obsession, and you have the Memphis Morticians. It’s a slower tempo psychobilly song with a heavy groove running through the fuzz. Good track.
7. Kreeps – You Can’t Give Me Anything –Rue Morgue, who I usually credit with having impeccable taste, called Kreeps’ last album the best of 2010. With accolades like that, I was expecting a lot. I can’t make up my mind about these guys. Some of their stuff is pretty decent. A lot of it also sounds like that pretentious modern “indie” rock that is clogging the airwaves these days. You know, that crap you hear on cell phone commercials. This song is somewhere in the middle. It was pretty average if you ask me. I’ve only heard about 5 or 6 of their songs, so I’ll reserve judgment until I can take in the rest. I can see this band becoming extremely popular though. They have a dark leaning but appeal to the current mainstream rock tastes. I’d call this Hipster Horror Music.

8. Spooklight feat. Ryan Lindsey – Suck Me - The dark pop continues, but with a bouncy, vaguely 80’s sounding track with a definite quirky charm. It is also insanely catchy. It’s a song that WILL get stuck in your head regardless of whether it’s your style or not. You’ve been warned. God help me, I think this one is gonna grow on me. I mean Stephen King in Creepshow style.
9. Zombies of the Dead – Grindhouse trailer parody 2 of 4. These are pretty damn funny.
10. RAMMER – A Questionable Obsession with the Recently Deceased – Holy Hell! I wasn’t expecting metal, much less killer old school speed/thrash. How have I never heard of these guys? I’m loving this!
11. Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual – A piano and synth number that’s somehow jaunty and morose at the same time. Reminds me a little of Nick Cave. It’s kinda…(best Bruce Campbell voice)…Groovy.
12. The von Drats – Phantom Chop – Some good instrumental surf rock. They do it better than most, too. If you dig The Ghastly Ones style of psycho-surf, you’ll dig this. I do, so I do.
13. The Crypt Club – Crushed – Good old school goth rock. They’d fit in well with the awesome lineup of Cleopatra’s heyday. Kinda like Nosferatu’s less metallic side or maybe The Deep Eynde. I enjoyed this track immensely.
14. The Young Werewolves – Wrong Turn – I have heard over and over about this band and have never gotten around to checking them out. After hearing the great track that they contribute here, that will definitely have to be remedied. An interesting note, the executive producer for their second album was none other than Sid Haig!
15. Day of the Rocks – Parody # 3. Did I mention that these are really funny?
16. The Mission Creeps – Monster – It sounds a bit like The Cramps mixed with Raw Power era Iggy and the Stooges. Yeah, it’s as cool as that sounds.
17. Calabrese – Violet Hellfire – This track is rockin’, but I would expect no less from the horrorpunk juggernaut that is Calabrese. This song is from their CD They Call Us Death.

18. The Other – Can’t Stop the Monster Kids – The Other brings the fury from Germany. Their sound is somewhere between punk and early 80’s deathrock. Awesome. If you don’t know about The Other, you should.
19. The Creeping Cruds – Get Up and Kill –I love the Creeping Cruds down and dirty sound. If you ever have a chance to see them live, DO IT! This track has a bit of a slightly slowed down Motorhead flavor. All hail the Creeping Cruds!
20. Murder on the Gondola – Parody # 4 This is the best one. Hilarious.
21. So Sick Social Club feat. Madchild – Birthday – If Hollywood Undead covered ICP or Twiztid it would sound a lot like this. Horrorcore rap tends to be a very “love it or hate it” genre. If you’re into it, you will definitely dig this one. I like this cut.
22. Squid Lid – Tongue Sandwich (Water Creature Remix) – I’m not into electronic music, so I have no idea which of the umpteen thousand electro-sub genres to put this in. Sorry Squid Lid, I can't really review the track 'cause I don't know or like the genre. Kinda like the pop stuff, it’s not my thing, but that’s the beauty of a comp like this. It caters to all tastes. While I don’t dig on the techno stuff, the next listener might. That’s the point. Kudos to Rue Morgue for covering all the bases.
23. The Brains – Screaming – Psychobilly goodness. You know that hearse driving cat with the pompadour and the misfits t-shirt that gets all those hot psychobilly chicks? He listens to The Brains. You should follow suit.
24. Blood Ceremony – Oliver Haddo – Sabbath style riffs with a 70’s rock organ? Count me in. This hard rock dirge is my first introduction to Blood Ceremony, and I like what I hear. For those who are so inclined, this strikes me as perfect “smoke a bowl, turn the black light on, and just jam out” music. Crank it!

I must say, this is just as good as last year’s CD. I am a big fan of the mix disc, and Rue Morgue just made a great one. It’s like a Frankenstein beast stitched together from pieces gathered from every corner of the musical graveyard. There were a couple of songs I wasn’t big on, but hell, that’s the point. It’s like a freakshow. You might not be into the sword swallower, so go check out the lobster boy or the guy banging nails into his face. There’s something here for everyone. There are a few of the heavyweights of the darker side of music here alongside a lot of unknown bands that I’m glad are getting some exposure. I know I’ve definitely found some artists I want to look into further. This is track after track of deliciously dark decadence for the discerning fright fiend. Well done Rue Morgue, this is a killer collection. I definitely hope this becomes a yearly tradition. I cannot recommend it enough. You better go get it with the quickness though; it’s only available for download until July 31. Oh, and did I mention that IT’S FREE?!? What are you waiting for? Two severed thumbs up, Nathan says check it out.

As I promised, here's the link: GET THIS AWESOME CD RIGHT HERE!!!

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