Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: Black Death

The year is 1348. The Black Plague is ravaging Europe. Above the stench of death and the cries of the mourning rise voices demanding answers from the church. The church, feeling their grip on the populace slipping more with every decimated town and hamlet, decides that witchcraft and devilry must be afoot. They mobilize the fiercest warriors under god’s banner to discover the truth. We follow these warriors as they trek through perilous territory. When they arrive at their destination the warriors, played by Ron Pearlman and Nicholas Cage…wait a minute. This isn’t Season of the Witch, this is Black Death. Sorry, I got confused there for a minute. I kid, I kid. Despite their similar premises, they are worlds apart. Season of the Witch sucked despite a few significant strong points. Black Death does the opposite, and is a very good movie despite a couple of serious flaws.

In Black Death, Osmund, a young monk, sends the woman he is in love with away from the disease riddled city. She says she will wait for him, but only for a short time. While he struggles with whether or not leaving the monastery to meet her would be abandoning his obligation to god, Ulrich, a soldier under the church’s command, arrives at the monastery. There are rumors of a village that is untouched by the plague. This, of course, is evidence of witches and necromancers, so he has been sent by the church to get to the bottom of it. He needs a guide through the treacherous swamp and forest. Osmund sees this as his sign, and joins Ulrich. They meet up with Ulrich’s merry band of killers, torturers, and mercenaries. Edmund soon learns that they aren’t just investigating this town, but a little good ‘ol fashioned inquisition fun is in store. Despite losing a few men along the way, they arrive at the mysteriously healthy village. Here they find…well…I’m going to stop there. If I tell you much more it will get into spoiler territory.

This movie was not at all what I was expecting. While the journey to the non-diseased village was taking place, I was expecting it to turn into Mark of the Devil or Conqueror Worm once they got there. Instead, it went in a direction more akin to The Whicker Man. Maybe I’ve just seen one too many inquisition flicks, but when I see devices out of Torquemada’s toy box, I think I know what I’m in for. In a complete reversal of the Monty Python skit, I DID expect the inquisition, and it didn’t show up. Instead it went off in a very different, yet equally intriguing direction. Kudos to this flick for throwing me a curve ball. I like it when a movie can do that. Being unpredictable without resorting to something stupid coming out of far left field is a rarity these days.

The biggest strength of this movie is definitely the acting, which is exceptional. Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, The Hitcher, Silent Hill) as Ulrich is great. It may just be the facial and vocal resemblance, but when Bean grows out the beard and does the “tough guy swagger” thing, he reminds me a lot of the wrestler Triple H. You know, if Trips could act at all. What Trips, you can act? I’ve got two words for ya; Blade Trinity. Anyway, Sean Bean plays the character with a sense that quite a bit about him is left unspoken and it’s better left that way. He’s devout but matter-of-factly violent. Few actors I know of can brood like Bean. Eddie Redmayne is excellent as Osmund. I was worried at first that he was following the Twilight “play emotionally tortured by just not acting at all” technique. He proved later that he can emote very well. It’s nice to see young actors actually acting. That’s how you do inner conflict. Robert Pattinson, pay attention. The rest of their group is also quite entertaining. Andy Nyman (Severance) as the torturer who enjoys his job just a little bit too much, John Lynch as his second in command, and Johnny Harris as the cold blooded killer of the group are particularly enjoyable. The only one of the group that didn’t do it for me was Emun Elliot as a useless emo looking knight. Where does one even get black eyeliner in plague ravaged Middle Ages Europe anyway? I can see how they needed him in the movie towards the end, but they didn’t do a damn thing with the character for the first hour of the flick. Carice van Houten deserves mention for her turn as the leader of the village also.

It has more going for it than the skillful acting, though. The production values were also excellent. The sets, locations, and costumes evoked the feel of a grimy, gritty, hazy pestilence riddled land beautifully. The final twist involving Edmund and the witch is brilliantly executed. On a personal level, one thing I liked about this movie is the ambiguity of who the good guys are. There really aren’t any. Some people have decried having no one to identify with or the film’s so called “heavy handed theological idealism.” I disagree strongly. It does, in the end, come down to Christians against Pagans. I was worried about which side the film would take. Would the righteous Pagans prevail against the tyrannical Christians? Would the violent forces of the church crush the evil Pagans? Would it be a story of good prevailing or martyrdom? I love the fact that it’s neither. I don’t want to give anything away, but no one escapes the flick unscathed. Who prevails is debatable. It also appeals to my anti-religious side that both religions are portrayed in similar lights. In this movie, everyone is religious, everyone is barbaric, and no one is completely right. Religion breeds bloodshed, pure and simple. I enjoyed that.

I really only have two problems with this movie. The first is the violence. I’ve seen other reviewers talk about the film’s “graphic, brutal violence” and “torture scenes that must be seen to be believed.” Either these folks saw a drastically different cut of the film than I did, or they don’t watch many horror flicks. They must not be nearly as jaded to onscreen mayhem as you and I are. Yes, it is a violent movie and yes, there is blood, but I definitely wouldn’t call it graphic. Most of the throat slittings, stabbings, and other medieval combat kills take place just out of frame. Even the “horse scene” that got so much press features a limb removal shot so quickly and in silhouette that it has minimal impact. This is essentially a movie about the savagery that desperation and differences in dogma (try saying that five times fast) brings out in people. Making the violence more graphic would have made this point pack much more of a wallop.

My other issue is something I complain about a lot, the shaking handheld camera. You all know that I think shaky-cam is only acceptable in “found footage” movies, but it feels especially out of place in a period piece with sumptuous scenery and a semi-epic feel like this. Most of the time, filmmakers primarily use this pathetic technique in action sequences under the misconception that it makes the audience “feel the action” more. Actually, it just makes me feel like I’ve got Parkinsons. In Black Death, it is used not only during the action, but in establishing shots, any moving shot, and even dialog scenes. DIALOG SCENES for the love of god! As I’ve said about other flicks, it looks like it was shot by a bobble head doll. Give it a rest!

It appears that English director Christopher Smith is a name to pay attention to. Early in his career, he’s already showing some impressive chops. Triangle was pretty good, and I really dug Severance. I haven’t seen Creep but I’ve heard good things. He may be one to watch in the future. Black Death was a very good flick overall. Both of my quibbles (subdued violence and shaky cam) were more weak stylistic choices than actual errors. He certainly coaxed some great performances out of the cast and maintained a great, tense, grim, foreboding atmosphere throughout. The film looked great too, when they managed to fold the damn camera steady. Black Death gets two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: Ticked-off Trannies with Knives

I’ve been debating for a couple of days as to whether or not I should review Ticked-off Trannies with Knives. I have no problem writing about what goes on onscreen in any flick. That’s what the site is all about. The problem is that this flick is pretty controversial in certain circles and communities. You know me, I’m slightly opinionated. Lets be honest, I’m a bit of a loudmouth. Hell, everyone’s entitled to my opinion. I don’t shy away from controversy either. I’ve already gotten a couple of angry complaint emails about things I’ve said on the blog. The issue of censorship is a hot button with the ol’ Son of Celluloid, so I know that there is absolutely no way I can bring myself to review this flick without weighing in on the protests. I know that I might even piss some people off or alienate readers, but what the hell? That's how I roll. Here goes nothin’.

First, let’s talk about the movie itself. It’s a throwback to the 70’s grindhouse “rape/revenge” exploitation films. Bubbles is raped and beaten up by Boner. It seems Boner didn’t know Bubbles was a tranny until past “the point of no return” and he’s none too happy. He and his two buddies track Bubbles and her transgender cohorts and attempt to finish the job. They succeed in killing two out of the five in the group. When Bubbles wakes up from a coma, the three remaining chicks decide that it’s time for a little good old fashioned payback. It’s a simple, familiar story.

Lets start with the good. Rachel Slurr, played by notable drag performer William Belli, is pretty funny. She’s the “dumb, offensive, but loyal” friend. All of the best lines in the flick belong to her. If you took Jason Mewes as Jay, put him in drag, gave him no lines about drugs but even more lines about dick, and dialed down the “funny” a bit, you’d have Rachel Slurr. Krystal Summers as Bubbles and Tom Zembrob as Boner were great. Krystal was surprisingly adept for a first time actress. She had the perfect balance of vulnerable and tough required to be a believable heroine a revenge flick. Tom Zembrob was menacing and creepy. Imagine a redneck version of David Hess from any of the Last House movies (on the Left, at the Edge of the Park, etc.) and you’ve got the picture. Not only are they good on their own, but their chemistry is great. When these two are on screen together, magic happens. They are in the same scene for roughly 50 minutes out of the film’s hour and a half running time. It’s a good thing too, because the other half of the film is damn near unwatchable.

I get that this was a throwback grindhouse flick, but this movie overdid it. It had more obnoxious fake grain, burned film, screen lines, and “reel missing” gags than Machete, Planet Terror, and Deathproof combined. Take a lesson from Hobo with a Shotgun folks, you can make a movie look like it’s from that period without the garish fake patina. Another thing it stole from Deathproof is that for the first twenty minutes, nothing happens except for the main characters talking. In that movie, it was annoying. In this movie, it’s unbearable. The dialog, which sounds half scripted and half improvised, consists of catty queens sniping at each other for what seems like forever. Not exactly my idea of entertaining. If you are one of those “flaming automatically equals funny” people, you might dig it. To me, it was just monotonous.

After that we get the scene in the warehouse where the attack happens. Like I said earlier, Boner is great, but his two stereotypical Mexican henchmen are very one note. I know they didn’t need to be much more than they were, and they served their purpose, but giving them some semblance of a character would have been nice. This scene is entertaining though, and the blood-matted hair stuck to the bat was a beautiful touch. It’s one of the Bubbles/Boner scenes I was talking about earlier. The fight choreography could have used a lot of work, especially the scenes involving Pinky La’Trimm, which is an issue later too, but even that can’t kill these good scenes.

Then Bubbles wakes up in the hospital, and the next 20 minutes are mind blowingly bad. We get a way too long charades bit (why is there canned food beside her hospital bed anyway?), a way too long “speech impediment on the phone” gag, and a 10 minute scene devoted to stretching the already thin joke that the doctor’s name is Phil Latio and the nurse is Connie Lingus. Get it? They drug a joke out until it was way beyond funny any more so many times that I was wondering if the Family Guy writers had a hand in it. I expected a 5 minute Conway Twitty song at any moment. The only thing remotely interesting in this middle section of the movie, the girls kung fu training, was cut out with a “missing reel” gag. Basically, they were trying to go for the feel of an early John Waters film, but the script doesn’t have the wit and the actors aren’t outrageous enough to pull off Desperate Living or Female Trouble. Sorry ladies.

The final part takes place as the three remaining gals get their revenge. The only real issue I have with this section is that with all of the stabbings and throat slittings, there’s very little blood. Wounds that should be gushing merely trickle. Half of the stabs and cuts don’t even bleed at all. You don’t have to go over the top with it if you don’t want to, but at least make it realistic. It’s a shame too, because aside from the lack of blood, the effects were done very well. This is another Bubbles and Boner scene though, with Rachel thrown in for good measure, so I dug it.

Now that we’ve gone over the flick itself, on to the controversy. GLAAD and various other transgender activist groups have been protesting the movie, even demanding that it be withdrawn from last year’s Tribeca film festival. In addition to taking offense to the word “Tranny,” they claim that it makes light of real violent hate crimes against transgender people. They also claim that it is an unrealistic representation of the lives of transgender females. They actually tried to shut down screenings of the film throughout last year. Before I share my thoughts, let me say that I think discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is ridiculous. As I like to say, what you like to lick doesn’t matter to me. Neither does what gender you want to dress and identify as. I couldn’t give less of a damn about that stuff, and I don’t judge based on it. That isn’t the issue here at all.

My thoughts on the subject are as follows: CHILL OUT AND GET OVER YOURSELVES! It’s a movie. I’m not going to go into how much I think the whole “political correctness” thing has gotten insanely out of hand, as this isn’t the time or the place, so whether or not they should have used the actual word “Tranny” I’m not going to address. What I will talk about is how ludicrous it is to get so butt-hurt over a movie like this. Then again, considering some of the dialog and action in the flick, butt-hurt might not be the best choice of words. Anyway, it’s an exploitation flick people. The whole point of a movie in this genre is that nothing is sacred, everyone is fair game, and bad taste is the norm. It’s not supposed to be a realistic portrayal of the transgender community, and it’s not supposed to have a heavy handed anti hate crime message. Did you really expect it to? Were these folks really dumb enough to expect a movie with a title like “Ticked-off Trannies with Knives” to be a message flick like Boys Don’t Cry or Milk? Come on folks. No, the violence isn’t realistic. You know why? Because the victims get their revenge! That’s not the norm in real life, and I would think that errs on the side of trans-powerment. Yes, it is a word. I think. This movie is an idiotic thing to get offended over. What offends me is that a group like GLADD that is all about tolerance and rights turns to the age old tactic of censorship as it’s method of attacking a perceived threat. Awful hypocritical of you there guys. For someone who claims to support equal rights for everyone, when you take offense to something, you guys sure seem ready to try to fight against their right to be seen and heard. Censorship is never the answer. My whole point is, it’s a movie. As Krystal Summers herself said “It is not a documentary, but a work of fiction and a revenge fantasy.” I’m not against GLADD as an organization, but trying to shut down movie screenings because you’re offended really sticks in my craw. Unbunch your panties, quit trying to ban things, and calm the hell down.

I know what you’re saying. I’m a straight, white, middle class male. What business do I have speaking on any issue facing a minority? I knew you would, so I got a second opinion. I want to introduce you all to Tina. Say hi Tina. You can follow her at this link. Tell her Nathan sent ya. Anyway, Tina is one of my best friends. She is also one of the blog’s biggest supporters, constantly pimping it all over the place. Furthermore, Tina is a transgender gal herself, so I figured she would be perfect to weigh in on the controversy. According to her, the term Tranny is viewed as offensive by some, but not all, and she doesn’t find it offensive personally. When I asked her if she found the violence in the flick offensive, she said “As far as people within the LGBT community complaining about the use of violence in the film...kind of ridiculous in my opinion. Trans women deal with violence or the threat thereof on an almost constant basis. We shouldn't run away from showing that on film. You have to take the film for what it is, a blaxsploitation-esque "I Spit on Your Grave" with 5 Trans women instead of 1 genetic female.” My thoughts exactly. She did, however, say “I do find the fact that they didn't fill all the trans roles with trans actresses offensive though. There are plenty out there that would have loved to do it.” I can see her point, but as far as casting goes, I would have given it to the best performer regardless of whether they were trans or not. Then again, as Tina says “A queen is never going to accurately portray a trans woman.” I do agree with that. I had a hard time confirming the “status” of the actresses, but at most 3 were actual trans, and they all seemed way more “drag queen” than “transgender woman.” I see both sides of that argument, but at least we agree that getting upset over violence in an exploitation flick is ridiculous.

All of the controversy aside, the movie is very uneven. When Ticked-off Trannies with Knives is good, it’s damn good; but when it’s bad, it’s horrid. The scene of the initial attack and the revenge scene are definitely effective. They’re a lot of fun too. Here’s my suggestion, watch the opening scene to get familiar with the characters. Then go make a sandwich or something, and come back 20 minutes in when the warehouse scene starts. When you see the hospital, go make a drink or let the dog out or do anything else but watch this movie for the next 20 minutes. Then, when you see Bubbles at home in her bathrobe, watch the rest from there. Trust me, it’s an enjoyable movie and well worth seeing if you watch it that way. It’s an endurance test if you watch it straight through. It’s half of a good movie, so I’ll give it one severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out.

Monday, July 25, 2011

HAVOC #1: And Now the Streaming Starts

It’s time to debut a new feature of the blog that I know you’ll dig. How do I know? I know my readers, that’s how. Just how well do I know my audience? Like, stalker good. Tell you what, I’m going to make three statements about you, and I’d be willing to bet that they’re all true. Ready? One, you like horror. See, pretty good huh? Two, you have a computer. Are you amazed yet? How about this then? Three, you like free stuff. HA! I told you! Kinda scary how well I know you, isn’t it? The 99% of you who those three criteria apply to (gotta allow for an oddball here and there) will, in fact, dig this.

I’m calling this new feature HAVOC, and it’s probably the most ridiculous acronym in history. It stands for Horror AVailable for free On your Computer. Whenever I see cool movies, documentaries, shorts, or anything else that you can stream free online, I’ll post it here. This is just streaming stuff, not downloads. I’m trying to keep it as much on the “legal” side of the fence as possible. So, just remember that any time you see the word HAVOC in the title accompanied by a bad pun about streaming, it means I’ve found something cool that I would like to share with you all. I like sharing with my readers. (Warning, Mickey Mouse Club moment ahead.) Why? Because I like you! H-A-V-O-C.

Anyway, one of the trends that have arisen in the past few years that I like a lot is the growing number of documentaries about the horror genre that are being released. Never Sleep Again, Going to Pieces, The Psycho Legacy, His Name Was Jason, American Grindhouse, Not Quite Hollywood, and Best Worst Movie have been amongst my favorites. Along with these genre or franchise centered retrospectives, certain filmmakers have been getting the camera turned on them lately. William Castle, Herschel Gordon Lewis, and John Waters have all gotten the documentary treatment recently. You can add another fear auteur to that list of names, Don Dohler.

What? You don’t know who Don Dohler is? Well, don’t feel bad. Until I watched this documentary the name didn’t ring a bell with me either. Once they started showing his films though, I recognized quite a few of them. He was responsible for low budget 80’s video fare like The Alien Factor, Nightbeast, Blood Massacre, and Fiend. I also remember seeing some of those on late night TV in my younger days. After taking an 11 year break after the tumultuous distribution of Blood Massacre, he returned to the director’s chair in 1999. In addition, he was a pioneer in the field of independent comics and published a very successful magazine called Cinemagic.

This movie is half about his life and filmography and half about the trials and tribulations he faces while filming his 10th movie, Dead Hunt. From lead actors dropping out to the set’s burglar alarm constantly going off, it’s an engaging peek into the world of micro budget filmmaking. Anyone who has ever been involved in filming on a low budget will identify with him and his partner, Joe Ripple. These scenes elicit the “friend getting kicked in the nuts” reaction. You know, the one where you say “Oh man, that sucks, I’m so sorry,” yet you can’t help laughing uproariously at the same time.

Dohler’s is a very interesting tale. I think one of the most amazing parts is the incident that inspired him to start making movies. I won’t give it away, but it’s a great story. He seems very low key for someone who has survived for as long as he did in the dog eat dog world of independent film. He overcame a lot of personal adversity to forge his career. Fate certainly threw Dohler more than his fair share of tragedy, which brings me to the end.

This movie has one of the most depressing endings I have ever seen. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m not big on happy endings, but this one is a serious buzzkill on a highly entertaining first hour. You all know that normally I don’t give spoilers, and this isn’t even really a spoiler since it’s on his imdb and Wikipedia pages, but for those who wish to spare yourselves this supreme downer of a finale, read on. If you don’t want it spoiled, don’t read between the asterixes and skip to the next paragraph. *** After the Dead Hunt premiere, we get a screen saying that he married his girlfriend, who we met earlier in the flick. After building us up, buttercup, it sends us crashing down. The very next screen tells us that he was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. After 10 minutes or so of people talking about how they hope he gets well and returns to filmmaking, we find out that he died a short time later. The freakin’ end. See what I mean? Depressing as hell. ***

Blood, Boobs, and Beast takes its title from the classic formula of what a b horror movie needs to be successful. By the way, I’m not sure why “beast” is singular there. “Beasts” would seem to make a lot more sense. It’s not exactly a fitting title, as Don expresses his distaste for having to add these things to his films to get distribution, but it does the trick. It’s an eye catching title, and it is what got me to watch it.

Overall, this is a great look into both the world of low budget filmmaking and the life of a man who made it in that world. Those who make low budget movies will find it familiar, affirming, heartbreaking, and touching. Those who love low budget movies will find out more about a talented but obscure purveyor of the craft. If you want the happy ending, stop the movie at an hour and six minutes in. If you want the tearjerker, let it play. I would normally never advocate not watching the end of a film, but in this case, I think the end was unnecessary and I’m not exactly sure what the filmmakers were going for. Either way, I give this one two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out. Besides, it’s free! What have you got to lose? You can watch it in that window down there, or click on over to Hulu and watch it there. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 30: Favorite horror character, period!

Once again I find myself at the end of a 30 Day Horror Challenge and it ends with a question that is nearly unanswerable. Favorite horror character? There’s no way in hell I could pick that. One of the great things about the horror genre is that it lends itself to so many memorable characters. Plus, from Leatherface to Captain Spaulding to Julie in Return of the Living Dead 3 to Reggie Bannister to Dr. Pretorious and all the rest, I’ve already written about most of my favorites. So, since there is no way I could pick a true favorite, I’m writing about my favorite that I haven’t gotten to discuss yet. He’s the patron saint of pain, Pinhead.
In my mind, there are really two main kinds of horror, dark fantasy horror and visceral horror. Dark fantasy is the realm of monsters, ghosts, and the supernatural. Werewolves, vampires, possessions, haunted houses, ghosts, and all manner of evil beasties belong in this category. Visceral horror is body horror. Blood and guts, zombies, slashers, butchers of all sorts, mutilations and mutations are what this type is all about. One of the things I love about Hellraiser, the cenobites, and Pinhead in particular, is that he straddles the line between the two better than any other character. He is a demon and has a deep supernatural mythology behind him, yet his focus on flesh and the possibilities inherent in its mutilation kept him grounded in ph
ysical blood and guts horror.
He is very different from most other horror characters, especially in the time he first appeared. Hellraiser 1 and 2, Pinhead’s finest moments, came in the mid 80’s. What was all the rage in horror at that time? Right, the slashers. It was the age of the wisecracking Freddy type and the silent but deadly Jason or Michael Myers style. There were really no cerebral characters. There were no horror “villains” that carried themselves with class and poise. Pinhead came along and filled that void as the aristocrat of hell.
There were really two t
hings that set him apart from the rest of the pack. First was the overall feel of the character. This was a character that didn’t jump around like Freddy or plod along like Jason. He almost glides. He’s graceful. You never see a sudden move. Every motion is planned out, measured, and meaningful. Pinhead seems to have discipline. He is devoid of emotion, yet has a little hint about his eyes and actions which conveys an inner sadistic glee and turmoil mix that is compelling and intriguing. Clive Barker’s characters often have that quiet, dignified evil that makes them so much creepier than the manic or lumbering killers that are so common. Candyman, Dr. Channard in Hellraiser 2, Dr. Dekker in Nightbreed, and Pinhead all share the same eloquent, elegant type of menace that really makes these characters chilling. Pinhead takes it one step further, seeming almost regal. He has a truly commanding presence. This is fitting, since Barker has cited his influence for Pinhead’s demeanor as Christopher Lee’s sophisticated portrayal of Count Dracula.
The other is the way he speaks. He is articulate, intelligent, and well spoken. Clive Barker described Pinhead as having “a streak of priestly deportment and high flown rhetoric in him that suggests this is a monster who knows his Milton as well as he knows his de Sade, and can probably recite the Mass in Latin (albeit backwards).” While all of the other major horror characters of the day either had cheesy lines or no lines, Pinhead had great lines. Freddy, the other most quotable horror movie character of the 80’s, was spouting lines like “welcome to prime time bitch” and “how sweet, fresh meat.” Pretty good, but definitely lowbrow. The other wisecracking slashers of the era were on the same page. Now let’s look at some of Pinhead’s classic lines… -"Your suffering will be legendary, even in hell." -"Oh, no tears please, it's a waste of good suffering." -"We have an eternity to know your flesh” -"Down the dark decades of your pain, this will seem like a memory of Heaven." -"Just come here and die child, while you still have the option of doing it quickly. " Damn he’s cool. No movie character ever, horror or otherwise, has ever had that level of cool in their dialogue. That’s, like, James Dean cool, but at the same time it’s so chillingly beautiful and poetic that it transcends scary into frighteningly impressive.
While he’s dignified and silver tongued; when it’s time to get nasty Pinhead can slice and dice with the best of him. The hooks and chains were brilliant. Since the fluidity of his motion isn’t sudden enough for stabbing or slicing, huge hooks on the end of chains coming lightning fast out of seemingly nowhere are his perfect weapons. Remember the “Jesus wept” scene? Has Voorhees or Myers or anyone else ever annihilated a body so thoroughly? The tools on his belt suggest that when he finally does get his hands dirty, he’s in no hurry. He’s interested in taking his time and making the agony last. That’s especially effective for those of us who interested in BDSM, taking the “pain as pleasure” concept and taking it to its absolute infernal extreme, effectively using what we’re into as an instrument to scare us. Well played Clive, you old pervert you, well played. He’s mentally sadistic too. He enjoys taunting his victims with the inevitability of what is going to happen. If you pray for help, the last ditch effort of so many, he’s quick to stoke the fire of hopelessness by asking “Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?” He will also constantly remind you that you did this to yourself. You opened the box, and he came.
Pinhead is truly a one of a kind character. He’s intelligent, which I find much scarier than your average kill crazed slasher. He’s not insane at all. He knows exactly what he’s doing, he’s good at what he’s doing, and he enjoys what he’s doing. He’s like Dr. Mengele, but with the powers of hell backing his play. He’s got some of the best lines in horror history. He kills without a second thought, and loves every minute of it, but he isn’t evil. He’s beyond that level. Evil is so passé to him. He is a monster in the deepest sense of the word, but overlaid with all of the darkest aspects of human nature. There is not another horror character like him, and I dare say there never will be. In other words, "Gentlemen, I AM pain.” What else needs to be said?

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 29: Least favorite character.

I know, I know. I can hear the collective gasp now. How could I possibly hate on Leatherface? Have I turned my back on my brother? What happened to "the saw was family?" If you missed it you can read about the sibling status of Leatherface and I at this link: 30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 7: Favorite villain (human). Why him then? Why not any random pale, black haired Japanese horror ghost child, the Gingerdead Man, that irritating kid from Childs Play 3, Kelly Roland in Freddy vs Jason, Busta Rhymes (well, the entire cast actually) in Halloween: Resurrection, or any other horror character I’ve bitched about being annoyed by over the years? It’s precisely because Leatherface is normally in my top tier of favorite horror characters. They absolutely screwed the character up in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, however, to the point that I felt the need to pick this character in order to, in some small way, avenge the mistreatment of my brother.

This is by far the worst version of Leatherface ever. I had SERIOUS issues with his portrayal in the remake, mainly stemming from the fact that Jessica friggin’ Beil could take his arm off and he couldn’t start a saw one handed. At least there, though, they kept the spirit of the character consistent with the cannibal butcher we all know and love. This guy in TCM:TNG, however, is not Leatherface as we know him. Not by a long shot. Leatherface is a seasoned killer, a manic, violent psycho, and a generally frightening dude. In this film he’s incompetent at capturing prey, seems uncomfortable with violence, and is an absolute non-threatening doormat.

First of all, Leatherface’s incompetence in this flick completely goes against everything we know about the character. In one scene, he snatches a girl, carries her through the house, places her in a freezer, and turns to walk away. Then he acts surprised and panicked when she opens the door back up. Then he does the same thing again before placing a heavy item (it’s tough to tell what it is) on the door to keep her in the third time. Look, I know Leatherface is supposed to be mentally deficient, but come on. He’s been around this block a few times. Trapping and killing is what he’s good at. He would definitely know that if you place a kicking, screaming, hysterical person in anything without a lock, they will try to reopen it. He’s mentally challenged folks, not stupid. See, I said mentally challenged, not retarded. I’ve already been accused of being racist and sexist, I might as well not be accused of being prejudiced against the disabled too. Jeez people, chill.

Anyway, in TCM:TNG, pardon my French, Leatherface is a straight up pussy. The entire family assaults him repeatedly. Sure, he was on the bottom of the totem pole in the family all along, but he took it like a little brother would; he just kinda growled at them and went on. Here, he cries, whimpers, and cowers. What? Leatherface is basically playing the role of an abused housewife. At one point he gets up to attack Renee Zellweger’s character and she tells him to sit down and shut up. He does it! Even with Stretch, the one girl he loved, he never let his victims call the shots. Here, everyone calls the shots but him. He’s an absolute wimp. That is not how one of the greatest killers in cinema history is supposed to be portrayed. Leatherface always had the air about him that you didn’t want to mess with this sick freak whether he had his saw or not. In TCM:TNG, when he’s holding the damn saw is the only time he’s even remotely menacing.

Which brings me to the fact that he’s hesitant to be violent. He has never had a problem destroying anyone’s personal physical being at the drop of a hat. Here, he whimpers and cries when performing any act of violence. When one of the victims is assaulting Vilmer, Leatherface’s brother, he just stands there, saw in hand, watching nervously, and doesn’t do a damn thing. I don’t think so! Leatherface would have been all over her the second she laid a hand on a family member. When she runs out of the house, Vilmer has to order Leatherface to go get her before he will chase her. BULLSHIT! When she kills a family member, he gives up the chase and starts sobbing and wailing instead of chasing her down and making her pay. That’s not Leatherface type behavior!

Oh yeah, and what’s with this sneaking around crap? Numerous times in this movie Leatherface sneaks up on someone. Leatherface is not a stealth killer. Leatherface is a giant brute who comes at you full force. He’s supposed to be a manic lunatic too. His whole demure behavior at the dinner table is completely out of character. He’s downright dainty for crying out loud! The shrieking is another thing. All throughout the series, Leatherface has made guttural noises, sometimes a shriek, that made him that much creepier. In this one, other than at dinner, he shrieks the whole freakin’ movie. Imagine that you are telling a friend about a woman who constantly screams, but you are overemphasizing the shrillness and annoyance factor to the nth degree to really get the point across. That’s what he sounds like in this flick. It takes about a minute of him being on screen before you just want to yell “For the love of god, would you please shut the hell up?!” Seriously, he’s almost as annoying as Franklin was in the first one. It’s that bad.

I’m not even going to go into how incredibly lame his masks in this one are either. Well, maybe a little. In the first movie, Leatherface had three masks: the killing mask, the grandmother, and the pretty lady. This is them…

All three of them are creepy as hell. In this flick they use the exact same three “characters” for the masks (grandmother, pretty lady, and killing), but look at the masks themselves in the pics from this movie. Not even close. Is there anything even remotely scary about those masks? No. They suck. The images speak for themselves, however, so I’ll leave it at that.

I differ from the vast majority of my movie reviewing peers in that I don’t think that Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is a bad movie. In fact, I like it a lot. The members of the new family (other than Leatherface) are all interesting characters. Matthew McConaughey plays a very good over the top psycho. It’s one of those whacked out movies where you just never know what kind of weirdness is coming next. The flick also has a fun, twisted, brutally sadistic streak running through it. The whole concept of who is controlling the family (don’t worry, I won’t give it away) is a fascinating idea that I’d love to see explored further. The ending has a cool call back to the original classic. I can even forgive the bad acting by some of the younger cast. In fact, the one thing they messed up on was the character of Leatherface; and boy did they screw him up royally. This is the character that the whole damn franchise is based on and they decided to abandon almost everything audiences love about the character. Bad move guys. When I watch this movie, I can only shake my head and be disgusted thinking about how great the flick would have been had they stayed true to the character. What a missed opportunity. If I didn’t love my brother so much, this characterization of him wouldn’t have pissed me off so much. Don’t worry Bubba, I’ll always love ya, and I know that wasn’t really you in this movie. He is one of my favorites, but his mishandling here makes Leatherface in this film my least favorite horror character. You have no idea how much it hurts me to say that.

Monday, July 18, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 28: Character you most enjoyed seeing get naked.

Throughout the two challenges, I’ve been trying to choose answers that aren’t the most obvious and overused one. With this one, though, I can’t help it if everyone else picked this one too. It’s the most iconic nude scene in horror history for a reason. Many a horror inclined boy became a man watching Trash dance on that tomb, but I was originally going to pick something else just because this one was used so much. Then I noticed that while I was thinking through my favorite horror nude scenes, one name kept coming up. So I decided to pick that scene from Return of the Living Dead anyway and recognize the undeniable queen of fright flick T&A not just for that scene, but for her whole…um…”body” of work. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the one, the only, Linnea Quigley!
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on her. Monstervision was showing Return of the Living Dead. After a commercial break Joe Bob Briggs was interviewing Miss Quigley, talking about her upcoming nude scene and admonishing the TNT censors for “getting’ rid of the boobage.” When the movie started again, it took me a second to realize that the punk named Trash was the same person as the sweet looking blonde I had just seen interviewed. Then she started the whole “Do you ever fantasize about being killed” speech, started taking off her clothes (again), and danced atop a grave lit by road flares to the strains of “Tonight We Make Love ‘Til We Die.” This was basic cable, though, so what I saw was a vaguely human shaped pixilated blob with a head and legs sticking out. I decided then and there that I wanted to see that scene the way it was meant to be seen. It became one of those early “holy grail” movies for me. When I finally got to rent it, I wasn’t disappointed. Linnea’s beauty, the great lighting, the set, and the soundtrack all contributed to the scene’s well deserved mythic status. Sure, I was a little disappointed when I found out that she was wearing a crotch piece, but that did explain the Barbie doll like “smoothness.” It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the scene, however. As always, sorry for the censored pic, but i am running a semi-family friendly show here.
Then we have 1988’s Night of the Demons, my second favorite nude scene. She plays the best friend of Angela, the goth girl throwing the ill fated Halloween party. After enabling her chum’s stealing of party supplies by distracting the clerks at the store with a little upskirt peek and the following classic exchange… Linnea: Do you guys have sour balls? Clerk: Why sure we do. Linnea: Too bad. I bet you don’t get many blow jobs. …they head to Hull House. By the way, if you’ve never seen Night of the Demons, skip everything between the asterixes so as not to spoil a great scene for you. *** While there, Linnea gets possessed. She rips her top open, which she’s gotten good at doing over the years, and begins to draw on her tatas with lipstick. Then, all of a sudden, she pushes the lipstick through her nipple and into her tit. Poof! Now you see it, now you don’t. Coolest magic trick ever! *** I had never heard anything about the flick when I first saw it, so that scene caught me totally by surprise. It’s quite the effective “oh my god did you just see that” moment. She also appears in the remake with a great cameo that pays tribute to one of her scenes in the original.
She’s had many many other memorable nude scenes. She was stabbed in the neck by a possessed shower head in Witchtrap. Who could forget the topless and body painted “virgin dance of the double chainsaws” in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers? She was naked Sleeping Beauty in her first nude scene in Fairy Tales. Topless Linnea gets impaled on antlers by Santa in the most memorable scene from Silent Night Deadly Night. She’s been a naked soul bursting out of Freddy’s chest in not one, but two Nightmare on Elm Street movies. That’s not even half of them. This is the most complete list of Linnea’s nude scenes I could find.
Strangers Online (2009)

Kannibal (2001)

Sex Files: Pleasureville (1999)

Death Mask (1998)

Jack-O (1995)
Pumpkinhead II (1994)

Heavy Petting Detective (1993)

Scream Queen Hot Tub Party (1991)

Freddy's Dead (1991)

Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout (1990)
Virgin High (1990)
Vice Academy 2 (1990)

Murder Weapon (1990)
Deadly Embrace (1989)
Sexbomb (1989)

Assault of the Party Nerds (1989)

Witchtrap (1989)

Night of the Demons (1988)

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)

Dr. Alien (1988)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (1988)

Vice Academy (1988)

Creepozoids (1987)

Nightmare Sisters (1987)

Beverly Hills Girls (1986)
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1986)

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Savage Streets (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Young Warriors (1983)

Get Crazy (1983)

Cheech and Chong: Still Smokin' (1983)

Don't Go Near the Park (1981)

Graduation Day (1981)

Fairy Tales (1979)

Stone Cold Dead (1979)
Summer Camp (1979)
Psycho from Texas (1975)

That’s a hell of a list of credentials. She’s still got it too. Look at that first credit on that list. 2009. That means she did her most recent nude scene at the age of 51. How many actresses do you know of that are still taking it off for the camera in their fifties? Through it all, she managed to be constantly in the buff and often play slutty characters, but never seem like a slut herself. She has an air of class about her, a lot like Brinke Stevens does. These days she is still quite active in movies, but is also a fixture on the horror convention circuit, and is known as one of the most fan accessible of the scream queens. Linnea Quigley, for your outstanding contributions to the horror genre and being a pioneer in the world of on screen nudity, and for embodying everything an old school scream queen ought to be, Son of Celluloid honors you as the first ever recipient of the “Gratuitous Nekkid Scream Queen” Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 27: Character you most enjoyed seeing get killed.

This question could be taken one of two ways. One is that the character had the best death, so you enjoyed watching them die. In that case it would be Philip in Nightmare on Elm Street 3. That marionette kill was so cool it didn’t matter if you had any opinion of the character or not. I believe the question was meant, though, as the character you enjoyed seeing “get what’s coming to them.” Who would I pick in that case? Perhaps a really hatable character like Cooper in Night of the Living Dead. Maybe a character that isn’t exactly hatable but is so damn annoying that you’re just glad they can’t talk any more, like Franklin in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe a death that’s poetic, like that baby raper Rasa literally being “skull f**ked” to death in Serbian Film. Maybe it’s a death that is a fulfillment of a real life fantasy, like Paris Hilton’s character being killed in the House of Wax remake. There is one character that I hate worse than all of these though. One who I spent the entire movie close to screaming “JUST KILL THE BITCH!” at the screen. A character whose death is oh so gratifying. Step right up and claim your prize Mrs. Carmody!

The Mist is a seriously underrated flick. Even if it’s only for that amazing kick in the nuts ending, it deserves more mention than it usually gets. One of the things I love about it is that while monsters lurk outside, a human is an even bigger threat on the inside. It’s similar to Day of the Dead. The zombies are the constant threat outside, but Captain Rhodes and his boys are an even more pressing problem. By the way, Rhodes was my first runner up for this question. Mrs. Carmody just edges him out though, because she really strikes a chord in me by pressing one of my huge hot buttons.

I have an immense hatred for organized religion. Without getting into a huge religious debate here, it makes me sick when some person or group exploits people’s natural spiritual curiosity and fear of the unknown. It’s even more reprehensible when they exploit tragedy in order to do so. We could be here all day talking about how much I absolutely loathe religious predators, and Mrs. Carmody is the prototype. Everyone in that grocery store is terrified of what lies outside, and she exploits that fear and makes a grab for power. She used the other people’s desire for a solution and inability to understand what was going on to position herself as a religious leader. After all, the only difference between a religion and a cult is the number of members. Her impassioned, manipulative words that she claimed were from “god” whipped her followers into a violent, blood thirsty frenzy. Sound familiar folks? It’s the same thing that makes fanatical Muslims fly airplanes into buildings or dogmatic Christians bomb abortion clinics. Religious zealotry is a dangerous thing, and those that wield influence over it are almost always pure evil.

Frank Darabont and Stephen King were brilliant in the way they brought this character to life. Her dialog is absolutely spot on. The brainwashing tactics, moralistic posturing, dirty debating tactics, intentional issue confusion, and “us against them” misdirection of religious dogma (and a lot of political dogma) is brought to life with amazing clarity and realism. Marcia Gay Harden also does a great job of playing the role. Sometimes it's tough to know if she really believes something or if it's a devious leadership tactic. That ambiguity took a lot of skill to pull off. She handles the transition from just seeming like a kook to having a little taste of influence and liking it to being the ringleader of a mob in such a natural and organic way that it’s absolutely believable. I spent most of the movie shaking my head, amazed at how dead on the depiction of a bunch of brain dead sheep following the crazy lady because she said god speaks to her was. I expected the rational half of the survivors to take her out at several points. They even discussed the plan long before the moment of truth came. Fellow survivor or not, if someone is threatening the life of the group, sacrifices must be made. I’m talking about “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” sacrifice, not the human sacrifice of a child Carmody demanded. Since so many opportunities to take out the repulsive prophetess had gone by, I was not expecting it to happen when it did. The shot in the gut took me by surprise, and the build to the one between the eyes is short but beautiful. Everyone has issues that, when tickled just right in the context of a good movie, will immediately get them emotionally invested. Mrs. Carmody was that flashpoint character for me, so I enjoyed her death immensely. Here, watch the scene below, and I dare you not to cheer when that repugnant bitch gets hers. The Mist, by the way, gets two severed thumbs up and if you haven’t, you definitely need to check it out.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 26: Character that makes you laugh.

Hello Creeps! Glad you got caught in my little corner of the web. Now, before we slice into today’s question, I know some people have been complaining about my posts being rather gore-adic lately. Once again, technology has feared its ugly head. Scare with me folks. Besides, you know what they say, “people who live in glass hearses shouldn’t throw bones!” I promise bleede... I mean readers, if you hang in there with me; I’ll maggot up to you in the shrieks to come. Now, on with the post. It’s a bloody, beastly bit of blogging I like to call “30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 26: Character that makes you laugh.”

Man, I do love me some Crypt Keeper. He, or more specifically his comic book iteration, isn’t given nearly the credit he deserves for being as innovative and influential as he was. From 1950-1955 he spouted his puns and gory one-liners in the Takes From the Crypt comic, influencing countless future horror writers, directors, and actors. This was years before TV horror hosts started doing the same thing. Zacherly, Elvira, and all the others owe a big debt to the crypt keeper. Magazines like Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria have employed the style. I dare say that Freddy Krueger and all of the other smart ass slashers wouldn’t be making wisecracks if the Cryptkeeper hadn’t pioneered the art form. Then he brought the whole thing full circle by becoming an anthology host himself on HBO’s classic Tales from the Crypt series.

Samuel Johnson once said that puns are the lowest form of humor. A lot of people think that way. I could not disagree more. I used to do be a tour guide in Savannah, Ga, driving tourists around in a hearse telling ghost stories. I decided trying to take it too seriously would ruin the fun, so I started telling bad jokes, obviously inspired by the Crypt Keeper myself. In fact, on more than one occasion my tour was reviewed as being like “taking a ride with the Crypt Keeper.” I realized as time went on that a pun getting a huge groan was the exact same as it getting a huge laugh. That’s the trick. There’s a fine line between bad and so bad it’s good in pun humor, especially morbid puns, and trying to walk that line gave me a whole new appreciation for the brilliance of the Crypt Keeper. Those awful puns were great and actually very skillfully crafted. Yes you’d roll your eyes, but you couldn’t help but laugh too.

His great lines wouldn’t have meant a thing, however, if he hadn’t been brought to life so well. Kevin Yagher and his team made one of the most expressive characters ever, despite the fact that half of his face had rotted off. That puppet had personality! It took four people to control it. The face alone had 27 servo motors! The voice was the other crucial factor. John Kassir played it perfectly. He attacked the lines with such gusto that it sold them. The slightest hint of self awareness in his voice would have ruined the tone. He just went balls to the wall with the character, and that’s why he’s so damn funny. That cackle itself is a thing of beauty.

The Crypt Keeper is a truly timeless character. You could plop him down in any horror situation and he’d be gold. How many other characters from the late 80’s do you think could resonate with audiences without having to be “rebooted” or given a modern makeover? I betcha the Crypt Keeper could. There will always be a place for his style of humor. He kills me. There’s really not much else to say, so I’ll let the corpse of the hour end this one himself. Pleasant screams!

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