Thursday, July 31, 2008

LOTT D: This is why I'm hot (and evil).

The League of Tana Tea Drinkers has banged together another group post. The topic this time around was suggested by League member and ANTSS fave Absinthe, of the Gloomy Sunday Absinthes (see sidebar).

From the executive summary introduction provided Iloz Zoc (the League's heart and soul):

Why are we attracted to and mesmerized by evil people in horror cinema and novels? Gloomy Sunday's Gothic-romantic, Absinthe, kicks off this round of commentary from the League of Tana Tea Drinkers to explore this question. From Bela Lugosi to Freddy Kruger, the league pokes and prods as only it can do, to unearth the answers, the assumptions, and the contradictions.

Contributors include Absinthe, Chad Helder from Unspeakable Horror, Curt from Groovy Age of Horror, John Kenneth Muir from Reflections on TV/Film, and a little something something from your own favorite blogger.

"Wow, Cory Doctorow posted something?"

No, dammit! I meant me. Sheesh. I'm in there too.

Anywho, pop on over and check it out.

BONUS EVIL HOTNESS, because ANTSS is the blog that freakin' delivers, with a capital DEEE: Check out Top Horror Movies Club, hosted by the lovely and talented Rachel (see their new listing on the sidebar). Rachel and her various co-conspirators dig on horror big time and you owe it to yourself to swing by their blog and see how they do do that voodoo that they do so well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stuff: More artistic than the "Pollock" bugs leave on your windshield.

Along the lines of the work of the rogue taxidermist featured previously on ANTSS, here's some nifty work from Judith G. Klausner: rogue entomologist. Klausner makes unique artifacts out of insect corpses and other materials. Above is a selection from her insect/human hybrid collection: a mounted Eupatorus viscusfacies.

Below is a group of praying mantises staged to recreate the beheading of the gardeners under the order of the Queen of Hearts, a scene from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Movies: Yet another reason not to live in Manhattan.

Recently my lovely and talented wife, a bookseller who works in Manhattan, told me an unnerving story. She was working one of the later shifts at the shop and, after the long day was done, she and a co-worker decided to head out for a gin and tonic or two at a much beloved nearby watering hole. To get from the shop to drinking establishment, wife and co-worker normally head down Crosby, a charming still-cobblestoned street in the middle of the absurdly upmarket neighborhood of SoHo (the caps there being intentional and typical of the neighborhoods designation – even its typographic representation wallows in unnecessary pretentiousness – says a dude who goes by the nom de blog CRwM). This night, however, as they walked down the street, they noticed that rats were swarming everywhere. Out of every shadow, crisscrossing the street, diving into darkened doorways, swarming over piles of gnawed open trash bags, vanishing and appearing out of imperceptible holes in the storefronts. There were seemingly hundreds of the beasts running in mad zigzags all over the street.

My wife is no wilting flower of Brooklyn womanhood. She was raised on a ranch out in the California desert. Despite the fact that she was wearing open-toed shoes, she turned to her co-worker and said "Follow me." She began to loudly stomp her way down the street, like some drum majorette leading a instrumentless and utterly creeped out parade of one down Vermin Avenue. The strategy, she later explained to me, was derived from her childhood experiences with rattlesnakes. These potentially fatal reptiles were a common feature of the ranch that served as the setting for her youth. The theory goes like this: animals don't want to be fucked with and they don't want to fuck with you. Consequently, most unfortunate animal-human interactions are the result of one or more of the involved parties being surprised. Conclusion: Make a lot of noise and everybody will simply avoid one another.

Apparently, the rats did not understand the theory. Stomping down Crosby Street just seemed to rile them up. As my wife and he friend got further down the street, the rats became frantic. The seemed to swarm in greater numbers, appear in larger bunches, and make weird feinting dashes towards her and her co-worker. As odd as it sounds, the rats – collectively – seem to have concluded that my wife was behaving aggressively and, worse, that they had sufficient numbers to respond in a similarly aggressive manner.

Eventually, concerned that she was somehow escalating the situation to a potential breaking point, my wife decided to retreat. It was the first time I've ever heard of any New Yorker actually altering their travel plans because rats made the normal route impassible. Though I can't say I blame her.

For the record, I never wear open-toed shoes in the city. I know plenty of people who do. When the situation depicted in Jim Mickle's 2006 horror flick, Mulberry Street happen, all those who do will be laughing out the other side of their necks, so to speak.

In Mulberry Street - named after the primary setting, a block of SoHo/Little Italy (about five or six blocks from Crosby Street, where, incidentally, the rat swarm described above happened) - the rats become the vectors of disease that turns humans into nosferatu-looking were-vermin with minimal social skills and taste for human flesh. (Honestly, how come these diseases never turn people into tall, healthy, good-looking, socially-conscious locavores with a insatiable hunger for NPR? A sort of Park Slope plague that makes folks kinda smug, but mostly harmless.) This outbreak wreaks all holy hell on reunion between Clutch, an ex-boxer of no discernable profession, and Casey, his daughter who was recently wounded in one of the various foreign wars America has managed to find its way into. Caught up in this disaster are the other residents of Clutch's apartment building, a set of earnestly developed characters out of central casting who give the proceedings a "Will Eisner's 28 Days Later" feel. The film covers a single 24 period, slowly unfolding the crisis over the course of sweltering hot day and culminating in a classic nocturnal Night of the Living Dead-grade siege.

On first glance, there's not a lot here for the jaded horror fan. You've seen this "zombie" holocaust plot before, tweaks or not. The visuals shift somewhat clumsily between digital hand cam vérité and a jarring lush, overly-edited, and color-washed "edgy" style. The plot is somewhat slow to grind up, the effects and violence are hardly paradigm shifting. Finally, some plot points – notably the sudden reappearance of certain characters here and there – pushes the bounds of belief; no small feat in a flick that features man-eating rat people.

But this assessment undersells the flick, I think. Those who dig on solidly-built genre entertainment will find Mulberry Street delivers on all its promises without condescending to audiences or treating horror archetypes as easy shortcuts.

Building its plot, MS brings an almost Dogme-esque creativity to the problem of creating a citywide disaster on a budget that, for most filmmakers, wouldn't even cover craft services. Through television updates, radio reports, and the clever shooting of street culture as it is lived every day, MS manages to create a genuinely unnerving sense of a city falling apart at the seams. As an example of the rigorous use of every asset available, one of the most effective scenes involves a struggle between infected versus pure-strain humans (to evoke Gamma World terminology) in a bar. What makes this scene stick out is the fact that the bar features a massive projection television. Aside from being a valuable way to deliver exposition without seeming forced, the prop adds a disorienting dimension to the physical conflict that eventually occurs in the bar. The projected images of mass chaos and, later, the color-bars of a dead channel heighten the tension and make for a neato visual effect. Just by exploiting the setting to its fullest, the filmmakers are able to create a surreal effect that gives the whole scene added impact. That's good filmmaking.

The characterization is effective. Though none of the characters rise above the status of generic urban clichés, the filmmakers treat their cast with genuine interest, investing these stock personas with the dignity of archetypes. The ex-boxer, the local flamer, the wounded soldier, the old man who refuses to give over and die, the single mother looking for a good man – they can all be described with thumbnail sketch, but they are treated like they're not disposable. They're a slightly more ragged version of "these are the people in your neighborhood": efficiently spare types that feel more evocative than hollow. This characterization is all the more impacting for the ruthlessness with which the filmmakers treat their characters when the action starts in earnest. When it is time for a character to go, they tend to vanish with a rapid and unsentimental blur, all the more unsettlingly for its deadly flat suddenness.

Oh, yeah, and NYC indie horror fixture Larry Fessenden shows up briefly in the role of "Man Behind the Gate." That's a nice touch.

Mulberry Street reminds me of a perfect garage rock single: its success comes from executing a time tested and fan pleasing formula with energetic enthusiasm and creative confidence.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Movies: Finding old sawtooth.

For fans of classic horror, there's a slight glimmer of hope that the 1927 given-up-for-lost Todd Browning/Lon Chaney flick London After Midnight may have been rediscovered.

From the Allmovie blog:

In terms of cinematic holy grails, it really doesn’t get much holier than Todd Browning’s “lost” 1927 frightener London After Midnight. Produced just before the “talkies” revolutionized the film industry and released approximately three months after The Jazz Singer made the transition to sound official, this silent-but-successful collaboration between Browning and screen legend Lon Chaney was immediately pulled from distribution and stored in a vault following its initial theatrical run. By the 1935, London After Midnight had been taken completely out of circulation by MGM in order to avoid comparisons between it and the recently released remake Mark of the Vampire. Four decades later, on what would have been the fortieth anniversary of London After Midnight, an electrical blaze in Vault #7 of MGM’s Culver City studio destroyed what many believed to be the last remaining nitrate print and negative of the film.

Over half a century later, horror hounds are still mourning the loss.

Flash forward to Thursday, July 24, 2008, and Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles receives a link leading to a story claiming that a print of London After Midnight (stored under the alternate title of “The Hypnotist”) may still exist. It has all the makings of a great detective story, and whether it turns out to be fact or fiction, it’s a truly exciting read for film enthusiasts.

From Ain't It Cool, written in Knowles' typically telegraphic spastic CAP style:

Today - a fella named CarnyTrouble sent me a link... This Link and asked me to publicize this.


If you work at Time/Warner's Turner Entertainment Company, 5890 W. JEFFERSON BLVD,, LOS ANGELES, CA 90016. The facility was later also known to some as Bonded Film Storage... Get this print into the hands of an Archivist IMMEDIATELY! Every frame needs to be scanned and saved. This is literally the most holy of cinematic Holy Grails.

Finally, part of the original post at The Horror Drunx:

July 11th, 2008: In preparing this article, I revisited
5890 West Jefferson Blvd.
Bad news. No films are housed there any longer and the building has been leased to new tenants. I just have to hope I can track down the print again. Making a few phone calls and doing some research, I've discovered that all motion-picture assets which were housed at Jefferson have now been moved to the Warner Bros. lot or other storage facilities-- except for nitrate films, which have apparently been moved to the UCLA Film Archives. I'll be tracking it down again, hopefully now with the help of some bigger players in the motion-picture industry (their names won't be mentioned here yet) who are more likely to be listened to by those in charge than we are. Just hope we can track it down again, before it is too late.

July 14th , 2008 (Monday): I have a meeting with someone who may be able to help (they requested to remain nameless here to protect their identity). Good news, he agrees. Given the information I have, I know the prints from the Jefferson facility have been moved to one of only about three or four places. That narrows it down. My contact has access to one of those places, the film archives on the Warner Bros. back lot. He will be going there Thursday for some other related business and while there will have some searches run for me in the data base. I told him not to tip our hand quite yet, not to raise any caution flags. Not a problem, he says, it is the kind of thing he does at the archives quite often, so nothing will appear unusual. We consider me going with him, but quickly shelve the idea, because I trust him to do what he does without me being there. I'm still a grip of nerves, but waiting three days is a part of the "Blind Bargain.

July 17th , 2008 (Thursday): We have our answer! Of course, like many things related to LONDON AFTERMIDNIGHT, it comes in the form of a non-answer. While there was apparently nothing in the Warner's database for "THE HYPNOTIST" (though it still may be listed as The Hypnotist AKA London After Midnight) the title HIPNOSIS came up. That is quickly dismissed because it is the title of a newer movie, as well as a television show. The titleLONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT did in fact get a hit in the database though! The assets are listed as VIDEO however, which is odd. Could they have already done a safety transfer of the print? My instinct says no, it is most likely the master elements and rough footage from the 2002 still photograph recreation. I would like to find out for sure though. While this looks like a dead-end, it isn't, as I said THIS is still an answer. We know it most probably is not in the Warner's archives, but remember this was a nitrate print and all nitrate stock assets were moved to one of the U.C.L.A. Film Archives which are NOT listed in this particular database. The trail is not cold by any means! We now know where it isn't and we also know where it most likely is! The only problem now is, I don't have access to those places, but given time I may.

I've made an important decision. This has all always been about doing the better good for me, not about any kind of profit or bragging rights. It has always been the most important that LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT be FOUND, period. Not that *I* be the person to find it. What kind of an investigative researcher and historian would I be if I let ego and pride get in the way of history? After all, I've already not only found it, but had it physically in my hands once already so I KNOW it is out there. We are close enough that I can make my findings public and that I can let people with better access hopefully take it from here. I have, after all, given them a hell of a good road map to find it.

Let's hope that this article can get under the right noses where it can do the most good. Those of you who have watched the news recently may have heard of another silent film, METROPOLIS. Recently a print was found in South America that contained approximately 25 extra minutes that were missing from all the other existing prints. I consider this a major, epic find. The people in Buenos Aires tried for years to get the world to listen to them that they had the extra footage and even then, with it in their possession it was hard to get the right doors to open. Now it is suddenly a huge news story in the last couple weeks. To put things in perspective, METROPOLIS was made and released in 1927, the same year as LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. They found 25 minutes, but I still think we can find an entire lost movie. I wish I had the alternate happy ending for you, but stay tuned here for any updates on the story that may surface. As of now, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is still out there someplace, found for a short time, but now missing again. Not irrevocably "lost," not yet, just "misplaced" for now.

Let's hope the folks at Horror Drunx are on to something.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stuff: Real Events That Should Inspire a Horror Movie: #1

Still trying to find a way to squeeze in some reviewing, in the meantime, I post this story to show that things could always be worse. From Reuters:

At least 30 hungry bears have trapped a group of geologists at their remote survey site in Russia's far east after killing two of their co-workers last week, emergency officials said on Tuesday.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Meta: Now I know what real horror is.

Happy Monday, Screamers and Screamette's. But enough about you, let's talk about me.

Last Saturday morning, not only did I scratch the crap out of my glasses, but the hard drive of my previously happy and contented macbook died. It was chugging along just fine when, after an audible "pop," it gave up the ghost and presented me with the sinister White Screen of Death.

In essence, I'd piled up a couple grand in damages before reaching lunch. Not a good day.

This means that CRwM is temporarily operating half-blind and on borrowed computer time. I'll try to post regularly, but I'm thinking Screamin' fans – all five of you – might experience a bit of a slowdown.

I'll keep posting as often as I can. In the meantime, please feel free to explore the sidebar links. There's a boatload of horror, pop culture, and comic book goodness waiting for you on the other side of them there links.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Movies: Another coup for the Mexican tourism industry.

For reasons I'm not sure I could pinpoint, I came to Trespassers, the 2006 low-budget fright flick by dirctor Ian McCrudden, with a desire to find things I liked about it. I can't explain it. There was little about the flick that seemed promising. The premise sounded tired: a gaggle of fairly unlikable American tourists meets a grim end in some under-traveled backwater of the developing world. The film's cover – two blood-covered surfboards crossed under a skull, a pipe-shooting surf action shot, and the pulchritudinous backside of an unidentified bikini-clad bit of tastefulness – didn't promise much. Still, I was determined to enjoy myself. Maybe it was simply that I hadn't seen a surfing/horror flick in years (the last being 2000's giant saltie croc flick Krocodylus, a.k.a. Blood Surf). Zombies do Endless Summer, sure. Right on. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

My heart sank as I watched the opening scene. The film opens on a beach in Baja, Mexico, with a scene dominated by a long close-up of a Marlboro smoking, Oakleys-wearing, bandana-sporting, wetsuit clad super-jackass. He's on his cell, convincing his brother to come down to this really boss surf spot he's found. This guy epitomizes what is so repugnant about the typical protagonist in these Americans die abroad film. In the short opening scene, he manages to come off as crass, racist ("It's like Mexico without the Mexicans!" he shouts), stupid, materialistic, and self-absorbed. His not just a douchebag, he's like some ultra-duchebag going for the Duchebags' Choice Award for Duchebag of the Year, recognizing him for his outstanding achievement in duchebaggery. We meet him for seconds and, already, we want him dead.

Horror bloggers need to coin a new term for this seemingly genre-specific style of characterization: "anti-characterization," "endurance-test characterization," or maybe "Rothism." Instead of creating believable, interesting, multifaceted protagonists, many horror directors have perfected the art of inventing characters that are basically migraines walking on two legs. We suffer them and just want them to go away. Bonus points if they're violently punished for inflicting themselves on us in the first place. It's a whole school of characterization based on the shtick of carnival dunk-tank clowns.

Happily, shortly after super-duchebag tells his brother that he's found the perfect surf spot, he and the rest of his surfing clan are promptly disposed of by unseen force. The film then shifts focus to Little Duchie, his good-girl lady, her trampy friend, the comic relief goofball, and their sensitive gay friend. Excited by his brother's description of surf paradise, and unaware that his brother is dead, Little Duchie and Co. make a roadtrip over the boarder. You can guess what happens next: "Here we are! Where's my bro? Everybody, surf montage! A little T & A anybody? Holy crap, are those human bones! Argh, zombie attack! No! They've eaten Friend A and Friend B! How will we survive?" It's that sort of thing.

I said I went into the movie looking for things to like, so here are three things I liked about Trespassers.

1. Clever flip of the characters' racism.
For maybe the first quarter of the film, there are groan-inducing representations of Mexico and Mexicans as undeveloped primitives. All the men we meet are leering. violent types. The first Mexican woman we meet is, of course, a prostitute. However, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the filmmaker's feelings about the situation and the characters are, in fact, divergent. You get the sense that we've been piggy-backing on the racist limitations of the characters and, in fact, that filmmaker is very aware of the cultural and racial divisions at play. This is most clear in the backstory of the zombies. After several red herrings that suggest our protagonists are under siege by angry locals, we find out that the beach is cursed and home to anchorite zombies, themselves the unfortunate result of gringo stupidity. They're the leftovers of an imploded Jim Jones cult that fled the US and hoped to start up a new civilization in Mexico. Though the manner in which we get this backstory strains credulity – a character basically says, "I don't speak much Spanish, by I think he said that the beach is cursed because of this really elaborate story involving American cults, child murder, cannibalism, and satanic retribution. I will go into the details at great length; but, like I said, my Spanish is pretty elementary" – the backstory is a nice way to twist the characters' assumptions back upon themselves.

2. Occasionally great location filming.
Trespassers is filmed in digital and includes a character within the film who wields a digital camera. The effect is, for the most part, unintentionally comedic as the shaky, low-res, amateur film-within-a-film too often resembles the actual film. When we witness the incomprehensible first-person attack on the abandoned hand cam, it's hard to say what truly distinguishes it from some of the other incomprehensible action scenes we'll see later. This is the curse of modern digital tech. It has created a cult of intentionally clumsy amateur aesthetics that, ironically, look worse and worse as the digital tech itself continues to improve and approach film quality. Visually, Trespassers is marred by under lit scenes, occasionally confusing editing, and a forced casualness that becomes intrusive. However, there's an upside to the digital revolution as well. The portability of the tech has liberated low-budget filmmakers to explore locations that would have previously been cost prohibitive. The filmmakers behind Trespassers have a lot to learn, but they have several genuinely beautiful shots of the wild coast and roadside Mexico. They manage to capture the sun-bleached sensuality of their location, only occasionally lapsing in the sort of immature pseudo-lyricism – "look, moonlight on the water, so artsy" - that great locations can inspire in even the most talented filmmakers. For all the rough patches, I think these guys show real promise.

3. The talents of Joleigh Fioreavanti.
Ms. Fioreavanti plays the slutty girl – Rose – of this picture. I must admit that admire Ms. Fioreavanti diligent work ethic. Trespassers was one of five films Ms. Fioreavanti made in 2006 alone. In three of those films, including the retro-slasher pic Hatchet, she showed off her, um, talents to great effect. That's a hard working pair of talent and a hard working actress. I salute you, Ms. Fioreavanti. Keep the aspidistra flying!

Trespassers is, I suspect, nobody's idea of a truly great horror flick. It's the early product of a bunch of folks still finding their way around the film biz. Still, among all the clumsy bits, I think there was a real effort at producing something solidly entertaining and inventive enough to keep from lapsing into completely tired territory. On those terms, Trespassers was a modest, but not unworthy success

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Contest: And now the winning starts . . .

Before I get to announcing the winner of the stupendous, gargantuan, world-shattering ANTSS Tricentpostiary Limerick Spectacular*, I'd like to thank everybody who took the time to enter. We had more than twenty entries with contestants from three different countries: two Canadians submitted as did a citizen of the United Kingdom. We also had the first bilingual entry to any ANTSS poem contest: ANTSS regular Screamin' Cattleworks dropped some ciencia en español for his dual synopsis of the English and Spanish versions of 1931's Dracula.

So, who emerged triumphant from this multinational literary throwdown?

I handed off all the entries – with bylines removed – to an impartial panel of critics. The critics were told to judge the limericks by whatever criteria they saw fit. The critics carefully considered each entry and cast ballots for the winner.

Then I made all the critics get in a steel cage and fight to the death. After the dust settled and the bodies were carted away, the last critic standing chose the following limerick synopsis of the classic Bride of Frankenstein:

There was an old doc named Praetorious,
whose work with the dead was laborious,
with sutures and knife,
he gives old corpses life,
but his matchmaking skills aren't too glorious!

The author – limerick master Barry W. of West Virginia – has one copy of The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics headed his way.

For all the other poets who submitted, I think you've won something much much more valuable: a lesson about life. Actually content of lesson may vary; lesson is not legal tender; lesson not valid in Tennessee, the US Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico.

Thank you all - we will now return to ANTSS regularly scheduled horror-centric programming.

* "ANTSS Tricentpostiary Limerick Spectacular" is a registered trademark of ANTSS Corporation – ANTSS Co.: "For a Better Today, Tomorrow, with People, for Your Family, and a Bright Future."


By popular demand, by which I mean Screamin' Spacey asked for it, here are the entries into the limerick contest.

Kit P. covers two of my favorite horror flicks - The Re-Animator and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - and waxes poetic about the Evil Dead franchise.

There once was a Doctor named West
Who brought the dead back from their rest
He decided to kill
His dear friend Dr. Hill
And a girl got Hill's head with protest

There once was a dude named Raimi
Who made a most grueling movie
With fake shemps and no cash,
a hero named Ash,
it all added up to Groovy.

Living outside of the law
Some Texas boys and their Pa
Made them some friends
Who soon met their ends
With a hammer, a hook and chainsaw

Unkle Lancifer, of Kindertrauma fame (see the sidebar), gives us a limerickal tour of filmic adaptations of Stephen King novels in a 6 poem cycle.

1. Care-take not the Overlook hotel
Although the scenery may look swell
Just like Danny's dad
You're sure to go mad
And you're liable to end up in hell

2. Stop making fun of poor Carrie White!
I know she looks quite a fright
But with a twitch of her eye
She can cause you to fry
Even Sue Snell knows it just isn't right!

3. Holy crap it's that dog they call Cujo!
He follows you wherever that you go!
It's not cause he likes you
He just wants to bite you
He's got rabies or didn't you know?

4. Let's say we move out of Salem's Lot
Seems vampires is all that they got
I'm sick of this dreck
What a pain in the neck!
On my map it's only a dot!

5. Don't get in that car named Christine!
Rumor has it that bitch is real mean
She'll drive over your head
Until you are dead
That auto is simply a fiend!

6. Our kid is buried in pet sematary
You'd think that we'd be sorta weary
With the help of a Gwynn that's named Fred
He's sure to rise up from the dead
I sure hope that won't be too scary!

Screamin' Cattleworks goes bilingual to cover two versions of Dracula

When thirsty, that old bat named Dra-cu-la,
Shunned wine, preferring hearty ventri-“coolers”.
Fans can watch Bela,
Or that Spanish fella,
If you gusto the sexy peli-CU-la.

ANTSS regular Screamin' Sassy covers the The Ring, The Mummy (two versions), all original Friday the 13th, and every zombie film ever made.

There once was a man from Crystal Lake
who took all the lives he could take
"Wasn't me", said he
"was my mum, you see.
But let's see how many sequels we can make."

An Egyptian priest in a tomb
Brought to life from the book of doom
Vasloo or Karloff,
I know who gets my doff:
The man who makes all the ladies swoon.

A cursed tape of a dead girl
put it in the VCR and give a whirl
Wet and horrid is she
A wailing banshee
Watch the horror unfurl

Here comes the zombie horde
George Romero is their lord
Duking it out in a mall
Raiding labs for a haul
Poor Shaun is no longer bored.

ANTSS regular Screamin' Spacey goes absolutely nuts and covers everything from Hostel 1 and 2 to The Thing remake.

Two Americans in Europe were on tour
With a European, their motives impure.
Seeking every vice
They took some bad advice
And instead, learned all about torture.

There once was a Thing from the stars
That landed on Earth, not Mars.
First it got the dog
Then it went whole hog
And infected every human like SARS.

There once were some plants from outer space
That wanted to copy the human race.
Matt, Liz, Nancy and Jack
Tried to hold the plants back.
Alas, Liz was fooled when they stole Matt's face.

Three girls touring Europe weren't sure
Where to go next, so easy they were to lure.
They came for the spas
But stayed for the saws
And one bought a company that sells torture.

Estranged siblings reunite in New Orleans
Where Paul explains to Irena what it means
To find out that
You become a cat
By having sex with human beings.

A futuristic life this woman did lead,
In a house that catered to her every need.
But the house had AI
And it wanted to try
Impregnating her with its Demon Seed.

A scientist once did a terrible thing:
Mixed human/alien DNA into a female being.
She wanted to mate
And procreate
But everyone was afraid of the resulting offspring.

Sue H. covers The Vanishing

There once was a guy stopped for gas
While a traveller grabbed his girl’s ass.
Psycho put out her lights
And ruined his nights
But the remake was dire alas….

And, last but not least, the lovely and talented Absinthe, of Gloomy Sunday fame, was overwhelmed by the muse and created an ode instead of a limerick, reprised here:

Ode to Dawn of the Dead

I once knew a girl named Fran
She got knocked up one day and then ran
Then the dead came to life
Oh the horror and the strife
And away they went to the shopping center
where they set up house and were much better
Killing zombies with ease by the twos and the threes
Just as cool as you please
Then Roger who had tagged on for the ride - oh my he forgot his bag
Got stuck in the truck with a zombie bad luck
Bitten in the leg
He then had to beg
Please don't resist if I should happen to persist
Just shoot me and be done
Then go and have some fun
Peter agreed
And then did the deed
Then the bikers appeared
And did exactly what they all feared
They ran amok and had very good luck
Stephen got shot right on the spot
Then forgot about the masses of rot
And quickly became zombie chow
Right there in the elevator - wow!
Fran and Peter alone, now on their own, knew that they were prone
So away did they fly so they would not die, waving bye in the sky so high
Onwards they go - where we don't know
Hopefully to some place better
Where they will not fetter
And maybe one day will get a red setter

Once again, thanks to everybody who entered.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Contest: The end is really nigh.

Tomorrow will be the last day to submit limericks (the poetic form so hot, they gave it its own magazine - see above) for the ANTSS Tricentpostiary contest. Already, regular commentators, first-time readers, and members of League of Tana Tea Drinkers have submitted. It's like there's a party in my email inbox and you – yes, mang, you! – are invited.

I know, I know. You've got work and families and crap and you just can't find the time. I respect that. But I'm telling you: Quit work, go home, kill the spouse, and sell the children into slavery, because you freakin' need to work on something to submit for this contest. It is that important.

You with me now? Good.

Here's the dealie, yo. Write a limerick summarizing the plot of any horror film. That's right: any film that floats your boat is okay with me. Then submit it with your name and address to my email at crwm44[insert "at" symbol here]yahoo[and here goeth the dot]com. I'll take no submissions after Wednesday and the winner will be announced Thursday. You can submit as many limericks as you please.

Now let's tackle some common questions people have about the ANTSS Tricentpostiary contest.

What do I get if I win?

Why, my good man (or woman), haven't you heard? You will be the proud recipient of The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics. Inside you'll find several hundred pages of horror comic goodness. Plus, the several hundred pages are carefully numbered and presented in order – so you'll never be lost while reading. The book is also presented in Mammoth's patented Rectagnlo-vision – suitable for use with most shelves and other name brand books storage systems.

Is this some kind of cult thing?

Good question. Unfortunately, we’ve been asked by our legal council to avoid directly addressing this issue. Let's just say that were not saying it might not completely be some kind of not cult thing.

What do I get if I don't win?

The solemn pride that is the possession only of those noble souls who, hearing the call of duty, answered it honorably. Even if their limericks weren't so hot.

Is it still authentic jerk if I use standard charcoal and not allspice wood?

Sure. Heck yeah. Why not? Don't let the purists give you a hard time. It's all good.

What do I get if I don't enter the limerick contest?

Naught but the bitter gall of shame. And infamy shall gnaw at the guts of your descendents even on to the seventh generation of the seventh generation. For reals. Best to simply enter and avoid such a dire fate.

So enter already!

ANTSS FUN FACT: There's an "Irish Town" section of Limerick, Ireland, which is sort of like having a Little China in Beijing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Music: Stalinist-zombies, Gorby the Barbarian, putting the lumps back on the lumpenproletariat, and the spurting Twinkie of freedom!

In the following video, the Russian metal group ANJ (actually, their initials are Cyrillic letters I can't reproduce here, but that seems to be the commonly excepted English translation), a Conan-like Mikhail Gorbachev takes on hordes of Stalinist zombies who threaten the proles, here played by three top-heavy babes. Gorby dispatches these undead hardliners with his bare hands, his axe, a submachine gun, and laser beams that he can shoot from his freakin' eyes.

I don't know what's weirder about this video: the fact that it exists or the fact that is actually a clever and somewhat grim satire. The idea of the Commie hardliners being zombies is not particularly novel, but the band also takes a shot at the bandit capitalism that followed the Soviet collapse and the trashy materialism it has promoted. The "happy ending" is as absurd and strangely unfulfilling, if funny as heck. Like the best satires, there's plenty of folly to go around.


Friday, July 11, 2008

LoTT-D: The League digs up three new members.

Perhaps I'm just a sentimental old fool, but I'm a sucker for charming obsessives. I read some story about a man who spends his life collecting, say, grains of rice shaped like the faces of famous politicians from the 19th century ("You're right, that does James Blaine, the Plumed Knight of Maine.") and I can't help but feel like all is right with the world.

This is why I'm tickled pink to announce that Fred, the mad genius behind the skull-obsessed Sweet Skulls blog, is now a card carrying member of the League of Tana Tea Drinkers. Fred covers the skull beat: any skulls, any wheres, any times. Skull-themed board games, EC-Era comic covers featuring skulls, jewelry, bizarre art objects, and, of course, ukulele-playing burlesque girls who wear singing skull bras (I kid you not); it's all grist for the Sweet Skulls mill. I've been sporting Fred's link on my sidebar for awhile now, 'cause I'm ahead of the curve that way. If you haven't already, go check it out.

Fred joins the League as member of what might be the most accomplished class of inductees ever. Along with Fred, the League welcomes John Muir.

"Holy shit!" you say. "John Muir - famed naturalist, father of the modern preservation movement, and one of the prime sources of American environmentalism - joined the League?"

No, John Kenneth Muir.

"Holy shit!" you say. "John Kenneth Muir, the man responsible for John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on TV/Film and author of several celebrated books on contemporary popular culture, including Best in Show: The Films of Christopher Guest & Company, The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi, and Horror Films of the 1970s."

Yep. That's the one.

"Wow. The League is really powering up."

I know.

"You're going to be completely outclassed."

I know. Don't rub it in. Wait 'till you get a load of the next guy: August Ragone, the brain behind the monster-tastic The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla. He's one of the best English-language writers on Japanese pop culture and penned the authoritative Eiji Tsububraya: Master of Monsters.

With John and August adding their respective greatness levels to the collective outstandingness of the LoTT-D ranks, I think I can safely say, without risk of overstatement, the League is without a doubt the very reason the Internet was invented. Welcome aboard, gents.

Perhaps, if we're nice to them, they'll join in our limerick contest. You can read the rules and submit a limerick at any time. Deadline is next Wednesday. The winner will be announced the following day. I've received several entries at this point, but it is still anybody's game. Don't let this become another one of those missed opportunities that haunts your troubled and sleepless nights. Submit today and take the first step in becoming the you that you always knew you could be.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Books: We've got belle lettres comin' out the wazoo.

Fellow LoTT-D member and Lawng Islinder Vince Liaguno, of Slasher Speak fame, has posted a link to a neato article by long-time ANTSS fave: the lovely and talented Sarah Langan (shown above). Langan is the author of The Keeper and The Missing. The title of her essay, though less darkly evocative than her novel titles, has the advantage of being extremely straightforward: "Why I Write Horror".

Here's some highlights.

Langan on her adoring public:

Since I began publishing fiction, a pattern has emerged. I'm asked one question above all others, and it happens at readings, at NYU where I go to school for Environmental Science, and when I visit my boyfriend's family in Maryland. Friends and strangers alike narrow their eyes when they learn what my book is about. They wonder if I'm playing a practical joke. Then they ask: Why do you write horror? What they really mean is: Are you mental or something?

Some find my subject matter titillating, but not for the reasons I'd like. I once dated a man who was disappointed to discover that my apartment wasn't filled with candles and S&M sex toys. I was a horror writer, after all; wasn't I supposed to be kinky? And if I wasn't kinky, then why was I slumming in a genre scaffolded by the appetites of freaks?

My first novel was recently published. For a long time I wasn't able to sell it. During those years that I was papering my walls with rejection slips, I was young, single, a graduate of Columbia University's M.F.A. program, and living in New York. Back then, everybody wanted to be the next Candace Bushnell or Melissa Bank. Agents I queried, when they were kind enough to reply, asked: Why are you writing this stuff? Do you have anything satiric or quirky, about dating?

Langan on the use of monsters:

When it works, horror gets as close to the veins of our emotions as any piece of literature is able. The monsters do not exist to frighten us, but to soothe us. Their existence reassures us that we are reading fiction. We've got a lifeline, in case the characters with which we are identifying drag us too far into uncomfortable emotional terrain. Our characters' screams are our own screams, but when we are done, we can relax, because none of it was real, right? Except, we can't stop thinking about the friends we met in those books. We hope that long after the stories ended, they lived happy lives. We hope they are okay. We hope we're okay, too.

As can be expected from Langan, it is good and thoughtful stuff.

But, wait! There's more!

Langan isn't the only person 'round here with the literary skills that pay the bills. Nosiree Bob! ANTSS is in the near-epileptic throws of a literary contest of titanic, nay, cataclysmic, nay, really big proportions! For those not in the know, get with the program by reading yesterday's post.

Now we've already got a couple of posts in, including one from lovely and talented Absinthe, the blogger extraordinaire behind Gloomy Sunday (see sidebar), that is too good to keep to myself (even though it technically isn't a limerick).

Screamers and Screamettes, I present Absinthe's positively Horacean "Ode to Dawn of the Dead."

I once knew a girl named Fran
She got knocked up one day and then ran
Then the dead came to life
Oh the horror and the strife
And away they went to the shopping center
where they set up house and were much better
Killing zombies with ease by the twos and the threes
Just as cool as you please
Then Roger who had tagged on for the ride - oh my he forgot his bag
Got stuck in the truck with a zombie bad luck
Bitten in the leg
He then had to beg
Please don't resist if I should happen to persist
Just shoot me and be done
Then go and have some fun
Peter agreed
And then did the deed
Then the bikers appeared
And did exactly what they all feared
They ran amok and had very good luck
Stephen got shot right on the spot
Then forgot about the masses of rot
And quickly became zombie chow
Right there in the elevator - wow!
Fran and Peter alone, now on their own, knew that they were prone
So away did they fly so they would not die, waving bye in the sky so high
Onwards they go - where we don't know
Hopefully to some place better
Where they will not fetter
And maybe one day will get a red setter

Two words, my friends: Awe. Some.

Don't be left out of this literary revolution! The contest ends next Wednesday, folks. Chop chop! These limericks ain't going to write themselves!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Contest: 300 or "Madness? This is ANTSS Tricentpostiary."

This is the 300th post on And Now the Screaming Starts. To celebrate, I'm going to give away a free copy of the Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics as reviewed in this very blog.

"Holy Sister Carmen Lupita Herrera Villanueva de la Vega Campuzano and her 1,000 yapping zombie Pomeranians! A free book! How can I ensure that I am the person who receives said book?"

Well, dearest reader, I'm glad you asked. There will be a contest!

"A contest!"

Yes, a contest.

"That's great. I love contests."

I know. We all do. Now please stop interrupting.

Here's how you enter:
1) Write a limerick describing the plot of a horror movie. Any horror film that inspires you is fair game.
2) Email said limerick along with your name and mailing address to me at crwm44(at)yahoo(dot)com. Just type your limerick(s) in the body of the email.

You can send as many limericks as you please. The deadline for limericks will be one week from today: Wednesday the 16th. I'll announce the winner the day after the deadline.

Millions will enter, millions minus one will lose! And one will win!

Before we all rush to our quills and writing desks, I'd like to take the chance to thank everybody who has indulged me in this blog-habit of mine. I'd like to give a special shout out to the original group of readers who were early adopters of this thing: Dave, Spacejack, Sassy, Cattleworks, and Mermaid Heather. I'd like to thank all the members of the League of Tana Tea Drinkers for adding me to their ever-growing roll of awesomeness. And I'd like to thank my wife, who absolutely hates horror movies, but puts up with me anyway – thanks babe.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Movies: Jailhouse rot.

Beyond the Re-Animator, the third film in series, trailing Bride of the Re-Animator by more than a decade, seems to split fans of the series into two camps. Migliore and Strysik, in their comprehensive Lurker in the Lobby: a Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, are dismissive of the flick. They call it "a shadow of the gonzo wit of the original" and suggesting that the flick is little more than an exercise in sfx bloodletting that uses the existing series as its excuse. However, if the averaged ratings on IMDB reveal anything, the third film in the series is the fan favorite of the two sequels. Both viewpoints are reasonable. For fans familiar with the original literary source of the series, Beyond Re-Animator is the least Lovecraftian of the series. However, in its over-the-top approach to characterization, plotting, and gore, Beyond is clearly a product of the aforementioned gonzo aesthetic (always the least Lovecraftian element of the previous installments). Put schematically: Beyond is the first film to put extending the franchise before returning to the literary source. The result is the first Re-Animator film that owes more to the Gordon/Yuzna flicks that preceded it than to the Lovecraft story that inspired the franchise.

Yuzna's second film featuring mad scientist Herbert West picks up shortly after the end of Bride. During the carnage at chez West/Cain, one of West's re-animated corpses invades the home of the young Howard Phillips. The corpse overpowers Howie and dispatches his sister before being put down by the Arkham PD. Traumatized, Howard follows the police outside just in time to catch an irate Herbert West being stuffed into a police car. Nearby, Howie finds a glowing syringe full of reagent, apparently left behind by the absurdly sloppy APD.

Flash forward fourteen years.

Young Howie is now Dr. Phillips. Phillips takes his residency at the Arkham prison that now houses West. Obsessed with West's role in the death of his sister, Phillips thinks he can help West complete his research while, in the face of West's amoral indifference, turn West's discoveries towards good. Unfortunately, West's own casually sadistic attitude towards the living isn't the only problem facing Phillips. The prison's warden is tyrannical bully and West has run afoul of one of the prisons gang leaders. Of course, it wouldn't be a Re-Animator film without the doomed love interest: Laura, the attractive young local reporter who is in the prison fishing for the story.

After establishing our primaries, the film spends a short time on the familiar franchise plot. West and Phillips attempt various re-animations while trying to hide their experiments from the prison staff and Laura. But things disintegrate quickly and, before you can say "time off for god behavior," re-animated corpses and rioting inmates are running amuck in the prison. Surrealistic carnage ensues.

Filmed partially on Barcelona film sets and partially on location in the cavernous Prision Modelo in Valencia, the film has a grim and claustrophobic feel, a sort of dark reflection of the well-lit but no less institutional hospital setting of the first film.

The actors turn in functional performances, though it sometimes feels as if not everybody is acting in the same film: some going for the over-the-top vibe of the earlier franchise pieces while others try to hit something more like a conventional drama or horror. This feeling of disconnectedness is compounded by the use of dubbing throughout. Like many Euro films, the dialog in BtR is added post-production. Even when an actor is speaking English, you can tell that his or her dialog has been dubbed. Jeffery Coombs, the franchise's cornerstone, dials down his performance to give us a more controlled, quieter West. Instead of the pompous West of the first flick or the West of the Bride, who seems almost addicted to his power to create life, this West seems to have accepted that his work will always be done in secret and will never, in fact, produce results. He's no longer driven by the need to dominate his colleagues or to feel the rush of defeating death. Instead, he does what he does because that is all he is. He's sly, inventive, and tougher. He less pompous and instead has the wounded hauteur of deposed royalty – he's the elite who refuses to sink to the level of the scum he's now forced to deal with. It might be my favorite version of West. The only thing not to like about this take on West is that he feels underused as Yuzna spends plenty of time on the new characters, a few of which get much more screen time than they really need.

The effects, by deranged surrealistic effects man Screaming Mad George, are noteworthy. Gore hounds will certainly find plenty to keep them amused, but what makes the effects in BtR pop is how far out Screaming Mad George is willing to go on almost any gimmick. In on scene, a still-living junkie shoots several syringes full of reagents. Apparently, it produces a crazy high. It also causes the outer layers of the junkie's body to explode off. But, since the junkie is full of reagent, he doesn't die. Instead, the bloodied corpse, strips of flesh still hanging off him, asks for more hits of reagent, or at least some prescription grade pain-killers to take the edge off. The gory but goofy details of flick put it in the splatter-slapstick tradition of the earlier films, though SMG has a meaner streak in him and there's a bit of an edge here. One imagines that SMG feels his gory set pieces present people as they are, and it is people who don't look as monstrous as they should that are, somehow, the special effect. The gore satirist's misanthropic bent gives this film its less wacky tone, even when it is most trying to be humorous.

How does the parole board find? I'm going to have to side with those who feel Beyond is a worthy addition to franchise. It is interesting that the same director is behind both the "loyalist" Bride and the more revisionist Beyond. Both films pick up threads of the franchise, while managing to focus on two fairly different aspects of the original. The film is a bit darker and meaner, but the core concept is still solid. In fact, in a way, Beyond was the necessary next step. It proves that the franchise can adapt, expand, and carry more than a single creative vision. Plus, you know, there's some T & A, so that's nice.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Stuff: "If I get my eyes blacked in I’ll get my nose removed."

Over a Bizarre magazine's web site you can read an interview with "Rick," pictured above. Rick has dropped more than four grand and spent more than 24 hours under the needle to develop an elaborate zombie tattoo that covers most of the upper half of his body.

A couple of interview highlights:

How about your mum?
Well, I don’t think this is what my mother had in mind for me. When I got my hands done it broke her heart. She said, “You’ve got your hands tattooed like a skeleton! You’re never going to get a decent job!” But once she saw I was determined about it she was like, “If that’s what you want to do, make sure you go all the way. Don’t just start it and then change your mind. If you’re going to be sure enough to tattoo your fucking face like that, then you’ve got to be sure enough to do the whole fucking thing.”

Have you ever thought about having the tip of your nose removed?
Yes, and I’ve seen it before on TV. This guy had a flesh-eating disease and he was able to get his nose cut off because they gave him a prosthetic replacement. I was so jealous. I wanted it so bad. If I get my eyes blacked in I’ll get my nose removed.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Stuff: Where's your no-God now?

At the risk of becoming the "all torture, all the time" blog, I humbly submit a visual comparison: what fake torture looks like versus what real torture looks like.

In my previous series on so-called torture porn films, I made the case that the spectacular scenes of suffering that are the hallmark of franchises such as Saw and Hostel are not realistic. Rather they're a sort of over-the-top representation of our worst dark fantasies of what torture is. Now, through the miracle of the Interwebs, you don't have to take my word for it. You can see for yourself.

Representing the world of spectacularly fake torture will be represented by the "Angel Trap," the absurd Rube Goldbergian device that dispatches Detective Kerry (played screamingly by Dina Meyer) in Saw III. Needless to say, it is not safe for work and you may have to log-in to youtube and confirm your age before viewing.

Notice the sickly green and yellow lighting scheme, the steampunk-meets-butcher-shop complexity of the device, the dank dungeon like surroundings.

For what torture really looks like, we check into, of all places, Vanity Fair. VF columnist, contrarian gadfly, neo-con apologist, public intellectual, and crusading atheist Christopher Hitchens agreed to be waterboarded. Waterboarding is one of the approved "aggressive interrogation techniques," or, more colloquially, tortures currently being used by the United States government. VF cameramen recorded the short and unpleasant affair. By way of your first major contrast, this clip is work safe, at least in terms of gore and whatnot. However, if you do get asked about it, you'll have to explain what the heck you're watching and I doubt that will sound good to your employer. I should also explain that very loud music is blasted throughout a considerable portion of the clip. I have no idea if that's in the film or post-production.

Normal lighting, no maniacal ventriloquist's dummies handing out life lessons, no bloodshed. In fact, compared to the hyper-real violence of torture porn, it is almost mundane. Actually, it is mundane insomuch as it is not a fantasy of suffering, but the real thing.

In posting this, I don't wish to make a political statement (though I do have extremely strong feelings on the issue), just an aesthetic one. I hope this puts paid to the notion that so-called torture porn films are characterized by their lack of stylization and their narrow visual pursuit of realism.