Thursday, July 26, 2007

Comics: News from the funny book front.

Hey Screamers and Screamettes, here's a quick one to fill you in on a couple of horror-related tidbits that have filtered out of Comic Con International.

First, if you're one of those cats who avoids buying single-issue comics and, instead, waits for the trade paperback collections (which you shouldn't do for a variety of reasons, but, hey, I'm not your mom – you want to be evil, be evil) then now is the time to pick up the first volume of Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's excellent supernatural gangster comic Damned. The collection covers the entire first story arc, which stands as a complete tale. I reviewed the series earlier when it was in issues and I still recommend it.

If the collection weren't reason enough to make Damned appear a second time on And Now, word is that Dreamworks has bought up the rights. No news on any film details, but I'll be on the look out.

Second, Dark Horse Press – perhaps best known in horror circles for the Hellboy series and its spin off titles – announced that it is re-launching two classic horror anthology series: Creepy and Eerie.

Here's the official press release:

Dark Horse Is Getting Creepy . . . and Eerie

The magazines that gave a whole generation the shivers are back. Creepy and Eerie were the definitive horror and sci-fi comics of the 1960s and flourished up until the early 1980s. Dark Horse Comics has entered into an agreement with New Comic Company to create archive editions of this classic material, as well as launch new Creepy and Eerie comics for modern horror fans. The licensing deal will encompass publishing, select film and TV development, and merchandising. Many of today's brightest stars will lend their talents to the venture, including horror legend Bernie Wrightson (City of Others) and modern master Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre).

Creepy is best remembered for its classic horror and was hosted by Uncle Creepy, while Eerie often ventured into science fiction and featured Cousin Eerie as its host. The rest of the gang includes Hunter, Child, El Cid, Marvin the Dead Thing, and the newly developed Creepy Family. The magazines, originally published by Jim Warren are remembered as presenting some of the era's greatest genre comics work.

“Both Creepy andEerie are fondly remembered by comics fans as representing the best of science fiction and horror, and Dark Horse is proud and excited to relaunch these classic titles,” said Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson.

“Mike Richardson and Dark Horse have an impressive and deep understanding of what it will take to help us correctly re-launch Creepy and Eerie. It's a great fit for our brands,” said New Comic executive and Submarine Entertainment Co-President Dan Braun, who negotiated the deal in cooperation with CAA—who represents both New Comic and Dark Horse. Deals in TV and Film are expected to be announced shortly.

New Comic Company acquired all rights in all media to the Creepy and Eerie comic book series earlier this year and was formed by New York based Submarine Entertainment and Los Angeles based Grand Canal Film Works.

New efforts are expected to debut this fall with the classic tales being prepared for the hardcover Dark Horse Archive series.

New Comic and Grand Canal Film Works executive Craig Haffner added, “The depth of this library across the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres makes it truly tantalizing for a multitude of different platforms. Our association with Dark Horse will take us one step closer to realizing our goal of returning the Creepy and Eerie brands to their former stature and beyond.”

Dark Horse has set a tentative release date for the comics in early 2008.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Movies: I'm ready for my close up.

It would be easy to bury what is great about Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon in over analysis. I think hyperventilating fans of the film might be doing it a disservice when they praise it too highly. The film is clever, but no more clever than the first Scream flick was. The film gets some great mileage out of the faux-documentary feel, but doesn't use it to explore the viewer-media relationship the way the considerably grimmer Man Bites Dog did. It scores some zingers off the eminently ludic slasher genre; but isn't making fun of slasher flicks somewhat like making fun of the slow kid? Even the core franchises of the genre have long since lapsed into self-parody.

Behind the Mask is not particularly scary, is passably funny, is smart without being brilliant, and deconstructs a genre that, for all the quick wit of the film, has long since been subverted, dissected, and reinvented.

There. Now that we've got that out of the way, let me tell you why BtM is absolutely fantastic: BtM is a pitch perfect pop culture mediation on fandom. Specifically, it is a love letter to the pleasures of that curious sort of fandom that turns fictional sinister mass-murdering psychos into sub-cultural mascots, rates cinematic bloodbaths on the criteria of the creativity of its carnage, and can earnest discuss who might beat who in a fight: Leatherface or Michael Meyers?

For those who haven't seen it - BtM involves a charismatic and energetic young would-be slasher, the titular hero of the pic, and the film crew who follows him around the small Maryland town of Glen Echo as he prepares for his debut mass-murder. The film crew watches him select his victims, build a tantalizing "back story," run through a rigorous physical fitness routine, and generally do what an aggressively proactive movie maniac must do to make sure his opening slaughter is worthy of the name "atrocity."

Along the way we meet Leslie's "Ahab," an obsessive shrink played by Robert Englund, doing his best Donald Pleasence circa Halloween impersonation, and a truly wonderful Scott Wilson (who has been playing fascinating heavies since 1967) as Leslie's murderous mentor, a retired slasher who wants to give young bucks like Leslie the wisdom of his years spilling the blood of sorority sisters and the like.

It all builds up to a suitably tense final showdown in an abandoned house next to a beautifully atmospheric orchard.

One of the first things genre fans might notice is that, as far as slashers go, BtM isn't interested in going for the jugular. The body count is, by contemporary standards, modest and the film's approach to blood-letting is downright timid, even by the now tame standards of the classic slashers of the '70s and '80s. Instead, BtM trades in horrorific gore for that curious hallmark of the slasher flick: the predicable scare. That's really where the catharsis of slasher flicks is. We know exactly what we're getting into and we want that old familiar dance. And, when it comes to the old familiar dance, director Scott Glosserman and Nathan Baesel, who is perfect as the awkwardly cute then extremely creepy Vernon, are a regular Astaire and Rodgers. The joy of the film is not in the details of the kills or in the endless Pollock-ish splatter. The film shines in the way it fulfils the now classic formula of the slasher film: it begins with us rooting for the killer, then switchs our allegiances to the final girl. There's nothing surprising in this. It is a staple of every slasher flick. But there is a pleasure in seeing it done so knowingly and so well. It is like getting a perfect cheeseburger. Sure, we're not talking avocat et oeufs à la mousse de crabe; but isn't a really great burger something noteworthy in its own right.

A special mention should Jason Presant, the cinematographer. Despite a deliberately low-fi vibe, as suits the mockumentary conceit of the flick, Presant's expressive camera work manages to capture some genuinely beautiful moments, and, surprisingly for the lenser of a slasher flick, he has a real feel for the composition of pastoral charm. His work is better than it needs to be and his low-gloss but careful touch helps the movie avoid the bloated Hollywood slickness of Scream and the jagged, muddy awkwardness of most low budget productions.

BtM is a great movie in the way a song like the Beach Boy's I Get Around is a classic tune. By taking a perfectionist's approach to something meant to be a disposable pop confection, it elevates the final result. For such a special film, I think we need to break out the ol' German Cities Whose Names Begin with the Letter "O" Film Rating System. I'm giving Behind the Mask a strong Oberhausen. No he didn't! Yes, he did! I said it, and I stand by it: Oberhausen.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Books: Scary monsters and superfreaks.

So you're looking over the stack of unread novels that are clogging up your bookshelves. All those fat and important books from lions in the quality lit game - thick as door stops as if they've literally become bloated by their own sense of self-importance. Or maybe you've got a slew of sci-fi books with covers determined to communicate that sci-fi, for the worse, in no longer about ray guns and bug-eyed aliens. Or, perhaps, you've got a stack of whimsically lock-stepped chic lit on the bed stand, filled with secrets about skin care and shoe design more esoteric than the lore of Masons.

And you think: "Sigh. All these books are good and all. But what I'm really in the mood for is a splatter-punk rewrite of the 1988 cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space. With perhaps a dash of gross-out sex. That's really what I'm in the mood for. But where will I, CRwM's finicky little friend, find such a book? Does this magical tome exist? Why am I asking myself these questions when I know I don't have the answers?"

Well, my finicky little friend, you are the very definition of in luck. I'll tackle your questions in reverse order. First, you ask these questions because you've got an innate curiosity about the world around you. It is a positive thing and you should develop it further. Second, the book does exist. It is called The Freakshow. A dude named Bryan Smith wrote it. And, third, you can get it at your local purveyor of vendible literary stuffs for the bargain basement price of $6.99.

You: "It is really a re-write of Killer Klowns?"

Sort of. Think of it as Klowns on meth. The general plot is familiar – circus themed monstrosities from distant elsewhere (in this case a hellish parallel dimension known as "the Nothing") prey upon a small anytown. However, unlike the campy Klowns, Freakshow is dead earnest in it approach, which is best described as "This One Goes to Eleven."

The plot jumps between the stories of several protagonists as they uncover and attempt to thwart or promote the satanic designs of the psycho-circus, called The Flaherty Brother Traveling Carnivale and Feakshow. We've got Heather, who is strives to save her aging mother from the carnivale. Craig, Heather's abusive boyfriend and larval-stage serial killer, who gleefully joins the forces of evil. Josh, one of the few holdouts of town the freakshow attacks. Finally, there's Mike and Jinx, uneasy allies who find themselves trapped in the world of the freakshow.

Smith isn't the most graceful of authors, so the whole thing is a bit of a sloppy mess. In fact, on at least one occasion, Smith confuses his own characters and they swap plot lines for a paragraph or two. Still, it is hard to deny that the whole thing has a propulsive energy that, more often then not, compensates for the lack of structural logic. Freakshow never drags. Smith writes as if he's worried that modern readers have the attention span of a gnat with ADD. After a teaser chapter and one chapter introducing our heroine, the action kicks off and keeps an almost absurd pace throughout. Aside from our main group of characters, other characters are introduced and dispatched with a slaughter-house grade efficiency. And everything is extreme. Smith doesn't tie characters up when he can suspend them from the roof in a bondage harness and shock them with a cattle prod. Character don't just stab one another, they bring out the chainsaws. Finally, nobody has missionary position sex when automotive pseudo-tentacle rape and eye socket penetration are viable alternatives.

You: "Ugh."


You: "You kid."

Here's a sample Smith writing a sex scene at his most typical register. Young children, please leave the room.

Worse still were the moments when that crusty mouth suddenly locked firmly around the socket and slurped at the pooled blood and small bits of leftover optic tissue.

Long sections of the book are like that. When he can't thrill, Smith disgusts – doing both with equal gusto. In fact, he's at his best when he's abusing his characters. The few moments where he stops to catch his breath and attempts deeper characterizations fall completely flat. Smith is a bit of a literary sadist and his characters exist to be put through the meat grinder.

All this adds up to odd book that is compelling at a gut level, but is so clunky that there's little literary merit to it. Cheap thrills aren't anything to be ashamed of. If that's what an author promises to deliver, and the author makes good on that promise, then they are producing honest and effective work. Smith promises cheap thrills and that's exactly what you get. If it isn't your cup of tea, then there's no reason to pick up the book. But if you're looking for a thoroughly disreputable good time, unredeemed by high-faluting artistic aspirations or appeals to good taste, then Smith's thrill ride might be just what you're looking for.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Music: ARRRGH! Los Arrrghs, to be exact.

Okay, Screamers and Screamettes, we're back. And no more half-measure irregular posting either. We've got some flicks, some books, a few comics, and, maybe, even a role playing game to talk about, so there's plenty of material coming down the pipes.

But, the launch of this new era of posty goodness, I thought we'd rock out a bit.

Normally, when I introduce a band to you cats, I like to give a little bit of biographical info. In this case, there's not much I can say as I don't know much about this band other than they rock, their from Spain, and according to the liner notes of the only album (I found it on vinyl at Kim's in the East Village) they seem to be quite fond of drugs and booze.

My screamin' amigos, I give you Wau y los Arrrghs (that's Spanish for Wau and the Arrrghs!) performing "Momia Twist."

Here's their "Hey Monstruo Hey." The clips of the horror classic Nosferatu are nice, but check out the scenes from Lady Frankenstein, a b-grade flick reviewed on this same site you're looking at right now.

If you dig, you can find more on Wau y los Arrrghs' first album "Cantan En Español."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Movies: Oh, you meant the other Tarantino.

Just like his more famous namesake, the Tarantino behind the 2005 haunted office spook-flick Headhunter is a writer and director. But unlike Quentin, Paul Tarantino's films – including a second 2005 project called I Shot Myself (presumably not autobiographical in nature, but that might be justified) – have not become the toast of Cannes, have never been considered milestones of contemporary cinema, and are not likely to spur intense devotion and cult status on the auteur.

Headhunter is low-budget horror fare that gets off to a rocky start, takes a promising turn, and then collapses so thoroughly that, by the end of it, even the cast and crew seem to have lost any sense that it should be horrific, settling instead for sub-Zucker grade silly.

The plot involves an insurance salesman who, after taking a tip from a wealthy client, ends up seeking the assistance of a corporate headhunter. Luckily, this headhunter – a hottie-boombalottie blonde with a bit of a temper – keeps odd office hours and is available to see our hero in the middle of the night. I should point out that our hero does not find the headhunter's creepy, nocturnal manner – or the homeless dude that hangs outside of her office warning people not to enter her lair – sufficiently off-putting to cause him to seek a headhunter who, say, has lights installed in their office.

The headhunter hooks him up with a new gig that involves him working the night shift, reviewing actuary charts or some such thing.

It is during this bit, when our hapless insurer starts his new gig, that the movie is at its best. The contemporary office is a criminally underused setting for modern horror. Temporary and deliberately soulless, most offices have all the charm and warmth of Eastern German secret police interrogation centers. There is something genuinely monstrous in there cookie-cutter monotony – as if the spaces were intentionally designed to crush the humanity out the workers who toil away there. Dim the lights of your everyday white collar cube farm and you've got yourself a primo little setting for your horror flick.

As an aside, the wonderful Kings of Infinite Space - a gem of a novel by James Hynes – think Office Space meets The Island of Doctor Moreau, published the same year Headhunter was released – uses the creepy emptiness of office spaces to great effect. This is your bit of added value – instead of watching this flick, do yourself the favor and go read Kings of Infinite Space.

Where were we? Oh, yes. So, when Mr. Indemnity starts his new job, we get a genuinely creep set of scenes that really use the dim, emotionally deadening office set to perfect effect. It is truly creepy.

Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there. The scares fail to scare, the one sex scene fails to titillate, and the spooky tone developed so wonderfully evaporates as we stumble our way through an increasingly goofy plot.

Headhunter falls in that unforgiving ground between slight entertainment and so-bad-it's-good. After some promise, it fails to keep one involved and never gets so silly or outrageous that it enters into the realm of transcendent badness. It is, sadly, bad in a purely uninterestingly bad way. Dusting of the old Purported Diet of David Bowie in His Thin White Duke Phase Film Rating System, I'm giving this flick a rating of "milk." It is a disaster or some crime against humanity – in fact, it would be worth more consideration if it were.