Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Music: That classic Nilbog sound.

I don't think anything I could say about this YouTube clip would adequately prepare you for what you're about to experience.

Special thanks goes to Camp Blood, which hipped yours truly to this fine piece of cinematic remixery.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stuff: Even I, Lucas, have heard the legend of the Fish-Man. And I, Lucas, have seen a pretty boss Basil Gogos portrait of the Fish-Man too.

Last weekend I got to attend the New York Comicon where, sitting somewhat unassumingly among the main display floor, across from a display of fecal-pile action figures (that's not me editorializing – they were action hero piles of poop) and sandwiched between two comic dealers doing brisk business, was Basil Gogos.

If the improbable name doesn't ring a bell, Basil Gogos is perhaps best known as the "monster painter" who put portraits of Dracula, Frankenstein, and others (his Gill-Man is pictured above) on the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

He seemed a bit lost in the hurly-burly of the show floor. He was quietly sitting behind a portfolio of his work, pushing poster-sized prints and a career highlights book. He was dressed in a dapper dark suit and was wearing what seemed to be a cravat. I approached him and asked how the convention was treating him. "Quietly," was his answer.

That's a bit of a bummer, really. There was a heavy horror presence at this con. Wes Craven and his son were there to pitch Hills Have Eyes II and Eli Roth and company were showing sneak peaks of Hostel II. Upstairs, Gene "the Dean" Colan was selling original art featuring his Tomb of Dracula characters for a couple hundred dollars a pop. However, none of this seemed to translate into any love for Gogos and the older icons of horror cinema.

As we discussed his book, we were interrupted by a man who shoved in between us and thrust a small black notebook at Gogos. "Sign here please," the man said. He sounded like a UPS worker dropping off a particularly cumbersome and heavy package. Gogos smiled pleasantly, signed graciously, and the man took off as suddenly as he came. He purchased nothing from Gogos. He didn't even say thanks.

People can be such jackasses.

My friend, don't be a jackass. Check out more of Gogos's paintings at his Web site. Unfortunately, his home site doesn't offer up any of his pulpy masterpieces for such outlets as Men's Adventure, a delightfully tacky cheesecake and lit-trash rag from the 60s, but his classic monster stuff is there for browsing and buying.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Movies: Lake flaccid.

According to the pop-up-besotted Bloody Disgusting web site, Fox DVD is cranking out a sequel to the giant croc "thriller" Lake Placid. This new flick will surface briefly on the Sci-Fi Channel before taking up space in the bargain bins of selected DVD retailers nationwide. This proves, once again, that there is no cinematic well so befouled, so tainted with lameness, so clearly critically and commercially unwanted, that some money-hungry filmmaker won't try to draw more water from it.

The question of the day, then, opened to all Screamin' readers, is this: what's the worst horror film to ever get a sequel?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Just-shy-of-fine young cannibals.

Cannibals, in the confines of horror cinema and literature, are some of my favorite people. There's something refreshingly reductive about them. They reduce everything down to what is perhaps the most basic dramatic motivation: hunger. They want food and you're it. There's also something powerful about the reduction of people to food. Beyond the horrific potential of being slaughtered, the violation is so much more total than that of your basic, murdering, slasher-type. Doctor, engineer, filmmaker, anthropologist, male, female, black, white – it doesn't matter to the cannibal. To them, everybody is just meat. That's about as close to genuine nihilism as Western fiction gets.

Given my cannibal thing, I was excited to read Off Season, the famed first novel of Jack Ketchum, author of the truly brilliant and truly horrifying The Girl Next Door. The plot of Off Season is wonderfully simple: vacationing New Yorkers in Maine cabin come under siege by a tribe of atavistic cannibals. Original? Not even when it was written. But still, why screw around with a successful template?

Unfortunately, Off Season is a bit of a disappointment. I expect partly because, coming on the heels of my reading of the superlative GND, it can't help but seem a bit thin. Unlike that better book, Off Season is a thrill machine. Its action takes place over three blood soaked days and nights, and Ketchum propels his story forward, rolling past characterization points, meditative moments, and tangles of illogic. The star of the book is the violent struggle for survival and that, rather than any particular character, takes center stage. On this surface level, Ketchum delivers big time. The book takes an almost sadistic glee in putting its main characters through the wringer. One almost feels like our protagonists' main enemy in not the cannibal tribe (itself a bit of a knock-off from the original The Hills Have Eyes - even down to the presence of a large, extremely strong, bald and muscle-bound caveman), but the author who seems to have it out for them. The pacing is swift, the action engrossing, and the violence extreme.

What it doesn't have is the human connection. The Girl Next Door was one off those rare books that linked you directly to genuine human evil and did so not by scaring you, but my making you extend your sympathies. Off Season is, by comparison, a sort of gory burlesque of evil played for the relatively low stakes of shock-entertainment. It is well done, but it is what it is.

For the curious, the edition I read was the new "un-expurgated" edition. The edition features Ketchum on how Off Season came to be published. He tells of how, after picking up what they thought was a hot and daring new property, his publisher began making cut after cut to the text. Eager to please and hungry to see his novel in print, Ketchum gave on nearly every demand. His story of what got cut and what stayed (as well as what he cut and lost the manuscript for – so it is gone for good) makes for an entertaining look at one author's frustrating experiences in the pop lit biz.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Movies: They should call the sequel "Re-Pulse."

First, an apology.

I've been a lousy blogger and my posting pace, once a heroic post-a-day, has dwindled to a downright stingy twice a week. I can only claim work pressures and ask you for a little more patience. I hope, soon, to get back to my old once a day schedule. Until then, I'll post when I can.

Now . . . some horror stuff.

While working his way through a generic J-horror knock-off of The Ring – complete with haunted communications mediums and an overly elaborate rules for dying and not dying – something weird happened to director Kiyoshi Kurosawa: he stumbled upon an odd, artsy flick about the existential loneliness of the human condition. Even weirder, instead of punching the clock and turning in the next Ring-let, Kurosawa (no relation) made the film less shot. And, for Pulse (2001), it has made all the difference.

Pulse starts with all the necessary elements of a generic J-horror flick. A group of young, banal middle-class urban types accidentally comes across a bit of media – in this case a Web site instead of a video cassette – that serves as a gateway between this world and the next. This site gets linked to suicides happening all over Japan. The spirits of these suicides ending up on this site, mostly just sitting around, seemingly bored for all eternity. Oh, sometimes one of these dead souls calls the cell phone of a living person, though how or why is unclear and somewhat irrelevant as the dead have nothing to say but, "Help me" over and over.

As if a plague of suicides wasn't enough, some people are suffering death-by-becoming-wall-stains. Seriously. They get really sad and then fade into the nearest solid object, leaving behind a brown and black metaphysical skid mark on the wall or floor.

The explanation, for what it is worth, is that the spirit world has run out of real estate. The dead are eyeing the living world with plans for Chavez Ravine-style land grab. Only, where to put the living? You can't kill them. That'd just make more ghosts, which would just contribute to the afterlife overpopulation problem. Instead, the ghosts "trap the living in their own loneliness." Which is to say: "Make wall stains out of them." Anybody who doesn't want to become a wall stain will kill themselves instead. These folks get their souls safely diverted into the media-sphere, which can hold souls. Problem solved!

Follow all that?

Along the way, people will see several standard model Japanese-made pale, long haired ghosts. There's this whole thing about making doorways to the spirit world with red duct tape (again, I'm serious) And, eventually, the suicides and stainages reach apocalyptic proportions, and we watch a few confused and lost survivors try to make their way through a depopulated and haunted Japan.

Like almost every J-horror flick I've seen, Pulse relies on complexity over logic. They pile up arbitrary and senselessly evolving rules around their spooks and monsters, taking an almost Dadaist joy in rules that exist simply for the sake of rules. And, normally, that pisses me off. The unnecessarily complex, but ultimately not all that important, mythologies of J-horror are a disappointing drain on my viewing pleasure. Take The Ring for instance. The franchise was not improved by the addition of more backstory, especially as it all came at the price of making a complete mess of the wonderfully simple rules that drove the first flick.

Pulse, however, did not piss me off. I think this is because, about half way through, the film simply quits caring about being a horror movie and instead approaches something like a lyric meditation on loneliness. It is horrible, but in that way that the death of somebody after a lingering illness is horrible. It isn't shocking so much as sadly sobering. There are a few scary scenes, but mostly the mood is melancholy and introspective. As the film goes on, the various characters drift into long, empty silences. The streets empty out. People look upon the bodies of the dead with, what? Long? Sadness? Incomprehension?

In one stand out scene, a plane, presumably once piloted by somebody who is now a stain on the cockpit instrumentation, crashes in front of one of the film's main characters. Instead of playing it as an action scene, our lead silently watches as the plane, trailing a long tail of thick smoke, makes a slow and lazy arc. It crashes off-screen. Our protagonist doesn't run to investigate. She doesn't bother to go search for survivors. What, one imagines her thinking, would be the point?

Like They Came Back, the strange and sorrowful French zombie flick that used the trappings of a horror movie as an excuse to explore human sadness, Pulse is a thoughtful little art flick in the ill-fitting clothing of a horror flick. It is less successful than They Came Back in combining the two genres and I can imagine that many horror fans found this flick a complete bore. Personally, I was frustrated with the flick until I realized that this flick had morphed into something other than a straight horror picture and I should adjust my expectations accordingly.

Once you get over the bait and switch, Pulse is an okay film. It looks good. The story follows a sort allegorical logic that can carry you through the more tangled narrative patches. Ultimately, however, the flick suffers from being not quite a horror flick but not quite an art film, the two competing goals clash more than they blend. In situations like this, I find the Homeplanes of the Dungeons & Dragons Role Playing Game Film Rating System works best. Pulse gets a fair "Concordant Domains of the Outlands" rating. Sure it's concordant, but it is still of the outlands, you know?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Movies: Holy $@#&ing @$%#!

I don't want to get folks unduly excited about what may turn out to be just so much hot air, but word on the street is that a third film in the Ghostbusters is on its way. This bit of tinsel town gossip comes from a curious source: CISN Country, a contemporary country station out of Edmonton. I kid not. Seems on of the CISN jocks had Dan "Ray Stantz" Aykroyd on his show and Aykroyd let drop that an all-CGI animated Ghostbusters flick was in the works. He also let drop that Bill Murray was going to be contributing his voice to the CGI Venkman.

For the confirmation, go to the second part of the interview.

This might all be pie-in-the-sky B.S. – but a man can dream can't he?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Movies: Trying too hard to prove we're smarter than the dudes who cooked up "Alien vs. Predator."

The idea of a sci-fi monster mash betwixt the acid-blooded aliens of the Aliens franchise and the dreadlocked great invisible hunters of the Predator franchise is one of those seemingly obvious ideas that, in fact, contains a hidden flaw that the finished flick makes obvious.

Two flaws, actually.

First, the franchises are, if you think about it, in two different leagues. Aliens, if you count strictly the canonical flicks, has run through four films. Each flick was helmed by a major directorial talent (Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, and the French guy whose name completely escapes me, you know, that guy), each flick featured at least one big name actor, and all of them were major productions. The Predator franchise, however, has spawned only two flicks. The first built around the rock-stupid action character persona of Arnold, the second around the tired Lethal Weapon persona of Glover. Neither had an A-list director at the wheel – the firtst being the product of the workman-like John McTiernan, the second being the work of Stephan Hopkins fresh from Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, his incomprehensible addition to Kruger franchise. In short, as fun as the Predator franchise is, it simply doesn't play in the same league as Aliens. It is somewhat like teaming up Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter with Chucky – sure they're both serial killers from horror movies, but there's a qualitative difference that would make such a team-up more of a joke than a genuine fright fest. In this flick, the aliens felt diminished and wasted because they'd been shoehorned into a lesser product.

Second, the Predator was the star of his franchise. Though Arnie was perhaps one of the most bankable names at the time the first flick was shot, the reason why we still remember Predator was that it took a forgettable, typical Arnold actioner and flipped it. The soldier boys of Predator purposefully seemed like they wandered in from the jungles of any of a hundred 80's shoot 'em ups. It is the presence of the alien game hunter that brings the film to life. The aliens of the Aliens series, however, have always been more like the zombies in Romero's Dead franchise. They are the stars of the flicks, but the real drama comes from watching humans deal with them. They are not, themselves, particularly interesting, from a cinematic point of view. They look cool, but they tend to just hiss and bump into one another and crawl on the walls aimlessly until you give them some astronauts or space marines to chew on. Then they become this force which puts humans under pressure and gives us a classic "trapped and surrounded, will they band together?" plot. The aliens make for good film because of what they make humans do.

AVP, as the cool kids call it, places the aliens and predators front and center, losing what makes the aliens cool and concentrating way more attention to the Predator than it can take. The film is a silly, pointless romp that never gives viewers enough of anything to really make it worth its hour and a half running time.

That said, I'd like to turn my attention to perhaps the best thing one can say about this flick, and that is that the film inspired some truly delightful reviews on Netflix.

The best of which comes from a dude who calls him- or herself "The Astrodart." The Astrodart (like The Cheat, I think you need to include the The whenever you mention The Astrodart) gave the flick one star and then proceeded to provide a series of questions meant, I think, to poke holes in the plot of movie that centers around giant space bugs fighting a race of aliens who, like interstellar gun-nut rednecks, have based their entire culture on recreational hunting. Unfortunately, The Astrodart's efforts are as funny as the movies flaws. The Astrodart begins the "deconstruction" thusly:

Rather than give a straight review of the steaming pile that is "AVP," I'd like to critique the movie by asking several relatively spoilerless questions. Why would there be a whaling station in Antarctica in 1904?

Well, the filmmaker probably thought they could feature an Antarctic whaling station from 1904 in their film because there was a really a whaling station on Antarctica in 1904. Before the creation of factory ships, whalers need Antarctic whaling stations to help process their catches. The first processing station went up in 1904, on Grytviken, South Georgia. Now, to be fair, this isn't something I knew off the top of my head. I had to Google it – but, presumably, anybody who can post a review on Netflix can Google "Antarctica whaling stations" and not begin their clever assault with a utter dud. Astrodart, The, then launches into a series of probing questions:

Why does no one's breath steam in the sub zero temperature of the south pole? Why don't the predators in this film use stealth and intelligence like the other movies? If the predators' weapons are acid proof, why not their armor? Why do the chest burster aliens pop out of people's bodies in a few minutes rather than incubate for a day or two? How do said chest bursters fully mature after another ten minutes or so?

The first one seems fair; though, to me, a question like "how could aliens have evolved in such a manner as to be perfectly adapted to incubate inside what appears to be an infinite number of host species?" seems like a considerably stickier wicket. Or, perhaps, more interesting, "how is it that aliens never have to eat?" They turn many of their victims into egg hosts; but even when they don't, they usually leave their corpses behind or so vastly outnumber potential food species that they'd burn through the population and starve to death. As for why armor would melt, but not weaponry, perhaps they're made of two different materials like, oh, I don't, modern weapons and body armor. Finally, do we have a timetable for alien gestation and development? Is it any less absurd that a creature with an exoskeleton would mature in a day, sans shed shells, than it is that such an animal would be lethal in minutes? Basically, my point is that the whole concept is fairly absurd, so this outrage at perceived plot holes strikes me as bizarre. How you can set your personal absurd-o-meter high enough to accept the aliens and predator species, but still sweat this crap is beyond me.

Still, for all The Astrodart's quirky questions, he or she didn't take the lazy way out. There are several reviews which basically use this construction:

I could systematically dissect this movie and give a detailed breakdown of exactly how awful this movie is, but honestly, it’s just not worth the effort.

This is just a tease! Either unleash critical Hell or don't, but this "I could kill, but you aren't worth my time" thing is lame. How valuable can your damn time be that you're leaving a review of Aliens vs. Predator on Netflix?

I knew this kid when I was young – Richard Fellman – who swore he knew karate, but could never show us anything because he was only supposed to use the deadly art in self-defense. Nobody believed him. He was, in fact, a big lame-o. I have a proposal. From now on, when somebody posts a review where they suggest they could demolish a movie with their keen critical insights, but do not because it would not be worthy of them, we call that "posting a Fellman."

Did people do this before the Internet era, when anybody could instantly preserve their weird hissy-fit for all eternity? I reckon they did.

Lord Waddleneck: Verily, Lady Macbeth claims she knows what 'tis like to nurse a child, but 'tis made clear their marriage is a barren one. Odd's blood! For sooth, such lapses logickal are apt to throw me into a most intemperate rage! And a child born of a section de Caesar is not born of woman? The groundlings may enjoy such contrivances inane . . .

Sir Autumnbottom: By my troth, t'would serve if I did raze this foul drama with mine bodkin sharp wits – but gross combat with one so unfit t'would be unseemly.