Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stuff: Get on the scene, like a sex machine.

By way of the Mind Hacks blog, New Scientist presents the story of Elektro, "one of the world's first celebrity robots."

From the article:

Elektro was one of the world's first celebrity robots. Built by electrical manufacturer Westinghouse, and with electrical controls that were remarkably advanced for the time, he drew huge crowds at the 1939 New York World's Fair. During the Second World War, the robot was stored in the basement of the Weeks's family home in Ohio, where he became 8-year-old Jack's playmate. After the war, Elektro went back on the road, touring the US to adoring crowds, but his star soon began to wane. Shortly after 1960 and the release of Sex Kittens - in which Elektro starred alongside blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren and a chimp called Voltaire - the robot's career hit a low. Not long after that, Elektro disappeared entirely.

A CAREER LOW?!?!? I think not.

Here's the trailer for Elektro's one and only feature film: Sex Kitten's Go to College. The following clip is not safe for workplaces from the late 1950s.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Music: He's only got one eye!

The lucha-tastic video for Noah and the Whale's "Shape of My Heart" features a wrestler in a Santo mask dubbed El Corazon going up against a colorful rouges gallery of unlikely foes, including Killer Robot ("He's programmed . . . to kill") and Frank ("Just call him, 'Sir!'").


Monday, December 29, 2008

Stuff: Another dispatch from the Department of Crazy Crap You Didn't Even Know You Had to Fear.

Here at ANTSS, the Department of Crazy Crap You Didn't Even Know You Had to Fear vigilantly surfs the Internet, day and night, even on weekends, barring major holidays and the second Sunday of every month, to bring you the latest in unlikely misery so you can rest a little less easily.

Last time, it was brain worms.

What's the new hotness in unlikely fear? Vampire moths.

Quit laughing. I'm serious. They're moths and they drink human blood.

The following clip has several images of the little beasties feeding. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Movies: Revenge is a dish best served competently.

German-born Austrian director Michael Haneke makes political films that are great films full of weak politics. Watching something like Funny Games (either the 1997 or 2007 version) or Caché, you get the weird sense of two different people at work. First there's the genre-subverting, meticulous, unsentimental, and rigorous artist. This Haneke does all the work. Then, throughout his flicks and somewhat at random, a second Haneke – a ham-fisted, ingenuous, and simple-minded – drops in awkward political asides that are so egregiously thoughtless that many otherwise sympathetic and astute viewers assume that they're being insulted. It's even become something of a critical cliché to assume that all of Haneke's flicks are little more than elaborately constructed insults directed that the audience members and the only two positions one can take towards his work is to either side with him, taking up arms against a sea of philistines and by opposing offend them, or hate the director right back, declaring him just another insufferable hipster doofus pandering to the intellectual prejudices of those across the pond (and those domestic doofi who deserve them).

In the U. S. of A., this was more true with Funny Games (which I hope to get to later this week or early next) than with today's film, Caché. Not because Caché's political content is any more or less goofy, but because Funny Games hits us were we live (especially horror fans, some of whom – in a truly heroic gesture of genre-provincialist egotism – suggested that it was specifically constructed to insult the beloved мать ужаса). Games's target was media violence, our favorite luxury good and, for some of us, our livelihoods. Caché, on the other hand, involves European racism and the legacy of French colonialism in Algiers. Not having any dog in this particular fight, American audiences seem much more content to allow Haneke to jumble together all manner of haphazard moral equivalences and serve up a half-baked Buergenlandisches Erdbeerkoch of liberal white guilt, generic left-leaning isolationism, with a tart hint of class warfare.

In fact, the most strenuous objection anybody seems to have put forth to question the painfully simplistic platitudes of Second Haneke is the actual movie made by First Haneke, a flick more complex and morally ambiguous than Haneke 2 will allow.

We're going to talk specifics now, but I feel it fair to warn you that I'm going to uncharacteristically spoil the crap out of this flick. If you want to see it without me tramping my dirty footie prints all over it, this is where you should check out.

Georges and Anne are a model of bobo coupling. Georges, played with seething self-righteousness by the excellent Daniel Auteuil, is minor television celeb that hosts a critically well-received and mildly popular literary talkshow. Imagine a nation where a literary talkshow could survive on the tube – and people say that only supernatural horror can break the shackles of the mundane everyday world! Anne, ably handled by a Juliette Binoche who is given way too little to do, is an editor of pop poli-sci tomes on evergreen lefty topics such as anti-globalization. They live in a modernist two-floor townhouse in an upmarket section of Paris. They have a single child: Pierrot.

The film opens with the discovery of a videocassette that has been left on their doorstep. Somebody videotaped Georges and Anne's house for several hours. The tape comes with no threatening note. There's no hint of violent intent. The camera work isn't even that invasive. It is a static, almost stately establishing shot that more resembles the early work of the Brothers Lumière than it does the work of a voyeur or snoop.

The tape is the first of many. Again and again, there are shots of the family's Paris home or the country estate Georges grew up on. However, the subsequent tapes include child-like drawings depicting a boy vomiting blood or a rooster with blood spurting from its neck. Georges and Anne go to the police, but – as all police are in any movie that isn't a cop actioner – they are useless. After receiving the video of his childhood home, Georges claims he knows who is sending them, but he refuses to tell his wife on the grounds that he doesn't want to finger the guilty party until he's sure.

In truth, Georges is hiding the fact that the culprit is most like a young Algerian boy he wronged when they were younger. Much later in the film we learn that when Georges was still a boy, an Algerian couple helped his parents work the estate lands. They had a son named Majid. In 1961, Majid's parents went to Paris to take part in protest march. That march, an actual incident in from France's tempestuous 1960s, ended in the slaughter of an estimated 200 French-Algerian civilians, many of whom were herded into the Seine by the police and drowned. Majid's parents were among those killed. Back on the farm, Georges's parents decided that they would adopt Majid as their own. Georges, in a fit of juvenile jealousy, claimed that he'd seen Majid cough up blood. A doctor was called and Majid was given a clean bill of health. The still ragingly jealous Georges told Majid that Georges's parents wanted the rooster in the barnyard butchered. In a flashback scene that includes actual footage of a rooster being beheaded and, literally, running around with its head cut off, we see Majid believed Georges. Georges later told his parents that Majid, angered the Georges had the doctor summoned on false premises, had slaughtered the chicken in front of Georges and then threatened him with the same hatchet. As a consequence, Majid was sent to an orphanage.

Following hints left in one of the videos, Georges manages to confront Majid. Majid claims that he has not sent any tapes. Unconvinced, Georges threatens to do Majid harm if any more tapes arrive. Still wanting to keep his role in this secret, Georges tells his wife that he followed the clues, but there was nobody home.

Shortly thereafter, a tape of Georges and Majid's confrontation, including Georges's clear threat, arrives at the home. Faced with clear evidence that Georges has been keeping her in the dark, Anne demands to know the whole story, but Georges once again refuses to confide in her. The same tape showing Georges threatening Majid – or, as those unfamiliar with the backstory would see it: a tape showing a well-off white Parisian hassling and threatening a lower income Algerian man – arrives at Georges's television station. Georges's boss tells him that they've destroyed the tape and that he's not interested in Georges's personal problems, but, hey, by the way, we're still reviewing next season's line up and I'll let you know if you're picked up or not.

In what appears to be retaliation for the threat, Pierrot vanishes on his way home from school. The police, previous uninterested in the tapes, immediately set upon Majid and his son, a well-spoken and tightly-wound man in his early twenties. Both men are held through the night, but released because the police have got no hard evidence that links them to Pierrot's disappearance. That's because Pierrot was not actually kidnapped. He was hiding out at the home of a schoolie. When Pierrot returns to his home, his mother asks him to explain himself and he answers with vague accusations that suggest Anne is cheating on Georges with a coworker. In keeping with the theme of violated trust, Haneke violates the viewers' by never revealing whether Anne is or is not pursuing exo-domestic knookie. We have no proof, but doth she protest too much? Hmmmm.

In the meanwhile, Georges's gets a call from Majid. Come over, Majid says, and I'll explain everything. Georges goes and prepares to argue with Majid again. Instead, Majid cryptically states that he wanted Georges to be present and then, using a small razor or knife, opens up his own throat. Blood sprays and Majid falls dead. Georges leaves the scene.

Georges comes home and tells Anne the whole story. He confesses about what happened when he was six and Majid was just a boy. He tells her what happened at Majid's apartment. Anne tells him that he must go to the police.

Cut to the next day. Georges is headed into his office where he is confronted by Majid's son. Georges accuses the son of working up the video scheme, claiming Majid was too crazy and feeble to have pulled such a scam. The son denies that he had anything to do with the tapes. Majid asks Georges what it feels like to have a man's life weigh on his conscience and Georges responds that he feels no guilt. Majid's son replies that Georges's answer was what he expected. Is he confirming that he thinks Georges is a dickhead? Or is he making a veiled threat on the basis that he thinks a man's life wouldn't weigh on his conscience either?

That night, Georges dreams of the day Majid was dragged from the farm and shipped off to the orphanage.

The film ends on one of Haneke's trademark long, stable shots of Pierrot's school steps. Kids are leaving for the day. We don't see Pierrot among them, but the screen fades to black before all the kids finished leaving the building. Are we supposed to understand that Pierrot is missing? Was this what Majid's son was threatening to do? Has Pierrot run off again? Maybe he just didn't walk out of the school yet?

[Update: Eagle-eyed reader Sue points out that I missed not only Pierrot in this final shot, but I somehow didn't notice that he appears in the final shot with Majid's son! D'oh! While this raises a whole new set of questions, at the same time it makes my set of questions invalid. Read the comments for Sue's take on the flick.]

Visually, Haneke is an acquired taste. Either you'll find his affection for the extended, immobile shot a soporific affectation or you'll see how it converts even the most mundane of scenes into a sort of landscape painting. Similarly, his rejection of film scores and needle-drops – if I recall, no Haneke film includes any musical soundtrack (odd for a man who has also directed operas) – is either going to strike you as the obvious choice of somebody who meticulously creates soundscapes of everyday noise to accompany his living landscapes or it will simply add to the feeling that nothing is happening in this film. The only defense I can offer is that Haneke is very aware of his own style. In fact, the videos the Georges and Anne get are so similar to what Haneke might shoot anyway that a running visual gag throughout the film is deciding whether the shot you've been watching is going to be revealed to be another cassette or is "in action," so to speak. Still, having an artist intentionally do something you think is stupid doesn't make it less stupid, just intentionally stupid. While watching Caché, I thought, "This is pretty neat, but if I was even slightly in a different mood, I'd be asleep already." So forewarned is forearmed; you know what you like.

As to the politics, here's how Haneke 2 wants you to read this whole weird story. Georges is guilty of a great wrong. In this, he parallels the injustices France visited upon the Algerians during the colonial period. His behavior specifically parallels France's national attitude to the 1961 massacre that was, for years, unmentionable in the public sphere. Instead of enshrining the image a couple hundred French Algerian corpses clogging up the Seine, France chose to elevate the self-serving and heroically liberal image of the student uprisings as paradigmatic of the 1960s. In this, the nation parallels the easy liberality of Georges and Anne. Majid's revenge on them is just. Their union is based on a false sense of self and though Majid cannot ultimately harm them (he instead dies rather pointlessly), his campaign of terror can reveal the rotten core lies they've built their house upon. In this, Haneke 2 comes about one short hair's width away from outright endorsing terrorism as a weapon of oppressed people.

But Haneke 1's film doesn't actually jibe with this reading. First, is there any real parallel one can draw between the emotional life of a six-year-old child and the foreign policies of one of Europe's longest lasting nation-states. Is it valid, or even remotely useful, to understand the 1961 massacre through the metaphor of a child worried that a new child might steal his parents' affections? The link is arbitrary and forced. Even within the world of filmic morality, where it makes sense to spend a vast fortune and absurd amounts of time on obsessively revenging incidents from one's childhood (a considerable chunk of Argento's giallo-work and the popular Oldboy sell this premise without blinking), the actions of Majid seem asymmetrical. He's no avenging angel. He's just a stalker. The clumsiness of his plan is more tragic than his backstory – one almost feels bad for him when its revealed that the police saw right away that his suicide in the presence of Georges was just that, a suicide. Majid worked so hard, but it was just more than his quite limited mentality could pull off. Haneke 1 made Majid a born loser. He's no avatar of oppressed people everywhere. Instead, he's a guy who caught a spectacularly bad break and could never let it go. It ceased to be a moral issue because, long ago, the sin committed left the realm of violation and forgiveness and, instead, took on the force of a creation myth. Georges offers apologies, but apologies are no good here because to accept an apology would be to invalidate all those years of suffering and pain that made him who he is. Majid managed to get on with life, but it poisoned him. He passed this poison on to his son. And then one or both of them began terrorizing not only the presumably guilty party, but two innocents as well. Where Haneke 2 comes close to becoming a terror apologist, Haneke 1 creates a picture of the mentality that produces terrorism and it is irrational, pathetic, immoral, ineffectual, and ultimately self-destructive.

And, finally, Haneke 1 puts forth a more interesting moral quandary than Haneke 2 does: What is our moral obligation to those who want to destroy us? Especially if that hate is at the very center of their identity and displaces whatever moral framework of reconciliation might be used to close the chasm between us. Do we kill them? Is that any different then letting them destroy themselves in their mad effort to get us? Do our moral obligations to other people vanish the second we perceive a threat from them? Or should we hold ourselves to ethical standards even when doing so may pose an existential threat?

This moral thicket, the impossible imperative to love our enemies, is the genuinely provocative idea hidden inside Caché.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Books: Girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who . . .

'Tis the season for end of the year lists, which presents an interesting problem for us here at ANTSS.

On one hand, we hate to be followers.

On the other hand, we're way too cowardly and lazy to do something that might push us beyond the pale and get us ostracized by the horror blog community.

What's the solution? Do a list, but do it on trangendered sexual weirdness with everybody's favorite moody daughter of Dario Argento (pictured in the typically reserved and humble portrait above). We get in on the whole traditional listy goodness, but we roll a little weird and try to keep our thin alibi of individuality.

Let's begin.

There comes a time in the life of every Asia Argento fan when you wonder to yourself, "Self, I wonder what it would be like to make love to Asia Argento as a girl who had fooled Asia Argento into thinking she was actually a boy who had extensive sexual reassignment surgery done and was now pretty much a girl."

Well, wonder no longer. Savannah Knoop has lived the dream.

In 1999, Savannah Knoop did a solid for her sister-in-law, Laura Albert.

Since 1996, Albert had been writing short stories, musical reviews, and other bits under the penname Jeremiah "J. T." Leroy. Over the course of those three years, Albert had given Leroy a baroque Southern Gothic backstory involving child prostitution, religious fanaticism, drug abuse, truckers, and a titanic Evil Mother figure identified only as Sarah. In 1999, Albert – as Leroy – had produced two novels. The first, titled Sarah, was a dark magical-realist take on the subculture of "lot lizards," prostitutes that haunt the truck stops of America's highways. The second novel, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, was actually an interlinked series of short stories. The novel tossed out the magical-realist angle and went for a more spare, relentless, and grim approach.

The good news for Albert was that both books had become cult hits.

The bad news was that people wanted to meet J. T. Leroy.

The issue was further complicated by the fact that a considerable amount of the buzz regarding Albert's novels came from the fact that people assumed they were largely autobiographical. Part of the attraction of Leroy and his works was this bizarre and horrifying life story he supposedly had. Albert rightly understood that revealing there was no J. T. Leroy would drive a stake right into the heart of her success. Consequently, when Interview requested a photo of Leroy, Savannah was pressed into service. She was dressed up as a young man, photographed, and thanked for her part in keeping the hoax going.

It was meant to be a one-time deal, but for the next seven years Knoop became the public face of the J. T. Leroy literary conspiracy. She was interviewed, wooed, given awards, praised by everybody from Dennis Cooper to Bono, and even managed to sleep with Asia Argento while still disguised. To figure out how she pulled that off, you'll have to read Knoop's new memoir of the hoax, Girl Boy Girl: How I Became J. T. Leroy.

I can, however, share some of the things readers will learn about the tempestuous Italian actress and director from the not-a-man who knew her so intimately.

Without further ado, ANTSS proudly presents the official "And Now the Screaming Starts List of Nine Things You Would Know About Asia Argento If You Made Love to Asia Argento as a Girl Who Had Fooled Asia Argento into Thinking You Were Actually a Boy Who Had Extensive Sexual Reassignment Surgery":

1. When Asia Argento sees a sheep, she makes a flicking gesture with her fingers. It's a motion like trying to flick something sticky off your fingers. Asia believes that doing this will bring her good fortune.

2. In the sack, Asia Argento is "kind of a toppy-bottom." And, somewhat inexplicably, right before getting down to the nasty, she may announce that she wishes she had a penis.

3. When Asia Argento gives a toast, she stares directly into her dinner companion's eyes. She believes that doing so will allow her to detect betrayal. Of course, Asia seems to have never seen through Knoop's disguise, so you could be forgiven for doubting the efficacy of this lie-detection method.

4. Detecting treachery is apparently a major concern with Asia Argento as she seems to react to stressful situations by throwing paranoid fits. When she was directing The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Argento repeatedly announced that her crew was purposefully undermining her. She also stated they resented her authority because she was a woman. She also claimed that they made fun of her accent.

5. If Asia Argento spills wine, she dips her finger in it and dabs it behind her ears like perfume. Why? Who knows?

6. Asia Argento smokes like a freakin' chimney. It is alleged that she smoked through her pregnancy. Agrento helped give this allegation legs by allowing her preggers self to be photographed naked in the bathtub with a lit coffin nail in hand.

7. For formal media-event occasions, Asia Argento always wears Fendi. In fact, she's contractually obligated to. Even though she feels that Fendi designs "conventional" and "prissy" clothes, she likes the money that comes from being their red carpet dummy. In less formal contexts, she prefers jeans, which she covers in ballpoint pen doodles.

8. Asia Argento does not like Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain album.

9. Ask Asia Argento and she will tell you that, despite what people think of her, she's actually quite shy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Non-Denomination Specific Celebratory Winter Season Event!

Whoever you are, I hope this winter season finds you and yours happy, healthy, and joyous.

Thanks for all the readers who have followed this thing for two plus years now. I hope it's been as fun for as it is for me and I look forward to our third year together.

Image from "I Wish I Were" t-shirt by Ian Leino, available at Threadless T-Shirts.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stuff: Gift of the MaAARRGHHH!

From Tor via the fine folks at SoHo's McNally Jackson bookstore, a little Christmas cheer.

If that doesn't warm the cockles of your heart, then you may not have cockles. Acockletic individuals may experience the following symptoms: Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone; discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arm; fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn); sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness; extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath; and rapid or irregular heartbeats. See your doctor immediately.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: And Now the Screaming Starts is for entertainment purposes only. Health information received on the site does not constitute medical advice. ANTSS is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. ANTSS does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures, opinions or other information that may be provided on the linked websites. Though, dude, if you don't have cockles, then you're totally going to die unless you get to a doctor. If I were you, I'd be panicked already.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stuff: He's making a list . . .

So not too long ago, I got caught up in the list-o-mania response to HMV's "50 Greatest Horror Films of All Time" list. B-Sol, of Vault of Horror fame, approached several bloggers and asked us to participate in creating a response list.

"But isn't that dangerous?" I asked. "I heard that once you start making lists, you get caught up in it."

"Nah, that's just what the squares say to scare people off," B-Sol replied. "Making lists feels good. And you like to feel good, right?"

"Well, I do enjoy feeling good," I said. "But what if the response list ends up containing things like the video to Michael Jackson's Thriller? We could end up a laughing stock."

"No way. We'll get good stuff. You just got to know you're list-makers," B-Sol purred. "Besides, all the cool kids are doing it."

"All the cool kids?"

B-Sol smiled and nodded.

"The cool kids have never steered us wrong before," I said. "And the uniformity of response gives me real confidence in the soundness of their collective decision. But still . . . "

"Look, try it once," said B-Sol. "Just once. If you don't like it, you never have to try it again."

So I did it. I contributed to the Vault 50. Then I put down list-making and went on my way. And, for a few weeks, I was fine. But then I started jonesing again. Where were the contextless titles arranged in neat numerical rows, where was the group-think, where was the odd sense of importance semi-random data gets when it's ranked? I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. My wife left me when she caught me in the kitchen, ranking the utensils in the silverware drawer.

But God help me, here I am again, contributing to another list. Damn you B-Sol, I can't live without your lists! You've made me a monster!

That said, B-Sol's latest foray into canon-building was a deliberate answer to a criticism that many readers had regarding the Vault 50: the post-slasher era was pretty much completely ignored. The new list, again compiled by polling a handful of horror bloggers, including yours truly, focused on ranking the best horror flicks from 1990 to now.

Why the random 18 spread? B-Sol didn't want to step on the toes of anybody pondering a "Best of the Noughts" decade dealie at the end of next year. Thoughtful is how B-Sol rolls.

Here's the top 10 of the new list:

1. The Descent (2005) dir: Neil Marshall
2. The Blair Witch Project (1999) dir: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez
3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir: Jonathan Demme
4. The Ring (2002) dir: Gore Verbinski
5. Scream (1996) dir: Wes Craven
6. The Mist (2007) dir: Frank Darabont
7. 28 Days Later (2002) dir: Danny Boyle
8. Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992) dir: Peter Jackson
9. Inside (2007) dir: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
10. Shaun of the Dead (2004) dir: Edgar Wright

For the complete list in all its listy glory and for a rundown of everybody who contributed, make with the clickitiy-click and check out the original Vault story, with added post-game analysis goodness.

Now before you get all "The Descent, WTF? D, that's TFR, Y! I've got HAM 2 PMFBWTSDS, S!" on me, I was seriously in the minority when it came to this list. Only two of my selections made the cut. If you've got a problem with these selections, I recommend you look at the contributors list and flame everybody on it but me.

As for the results, the consensus so far seems to be mild agreement. Sure, there are quibbles with specific titles and few seem to be really happy with Marshall's chicks vs. troglodytes horror/actioner sitting on the top. The prevailing explanation is that it was a widely supported second-tier flick, but in a weighted voting system the widely supported second-tier flick beats the strongly supported idiosyncratic selection.

Honestly, my issue with the list is how mundane it is. One commenter on Vault made the observation that nobody could object to the flicks that made the list. B-Sol responded with something along the lines of "that's the point." Still, I kinda get the poster's point. What's the point of asking horror experts if the results are exactly what you'd expect if you ask anybody? Where are the surprises? Where are the overlooked gems that only "real" horror hounds would know about?

Already a bit of conventional wisdom is congealing around these lists: List-makers favor older flicks because it takes time for a film to become a classic. There is probably some truth to that, but I think that is not what's going on in the Vault lists. Instead, I propose that horror bloggers aren't so much experts as they are cultists.

What's the distinction? The expert is a recognized and reliable source of information and judgment. Though the attention grabbing part of that definition is "information and judgment," the kicker is actually the fairly innocuous "recognized and reliable." Experts become such by making the esoteric useful to the non-expert. Their judgments, while based on special info, share the same broad ideas of what is or is not valuable. Where the expert and the non-expert differ in their overall value-paradigm, the expert can back up their judgment using arguments that make sense to the non-expert.

Cultists, on the other hand, are best distinguished not only by their deep knowledge, but by an idiosyncratic set of critical standards. Take devotees of 1970's grindhouse cinema (please). Certainly, hardcore fans of the subgenre know metric pantloads of data about their favorite slice of the horror superstructural genre, but their judgments aren't recognizable or reliable in the terms of the non-expert. To understand the judgments of the cultists, you have to be one of the faithful. Unless you've bought into the "genius" of Jess Franco, it all looks like cut-rate sub-skinemax pseudo-porn. To understand it, you've had to already agree to adopt critical standards that are, for the non-expert – in this case the film-goer who watches plenty of flicks, but has no particular love for the genre – simply nonsensical. This happens to me whenever I read about a film that is good mainly because it is some variation of "batshit crazy." To the cultist, that apparently means something. To me, especially since it seems like every other poorly made piece of Nixon/Carter Era garbage gets the same label, it simply signals that I'm going to suffer a plotless, pointless, poorly-executed montage of stupidity. I lack the cultists' carefully developed, if somewhat off-kilter, critical criteria.

Even if you grant that distinction, what's it got to do with this list? I suspect that outside of the realm of cult fascination, horror bloggers don't have much to say that any casual horror fan doesn't already know. When you take the restrictions off the list, everybody can dabble in whatever weirdo stuff they dig and you end up with a list that, while utterly lacking in clout or authority, is at least interesting. Restrict the list in any way, and you undercut the cultist tendency of bloggers. The result: you get a list everybody can generally agree on, but it also a list anybody could have made.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Movies: It's my flick in a box.

I'm disappointed in The Cube, Vincenzo Natali's 1997 Lifeboat-by-way-of-The Twilight Zone sciffy thriller, and somewhat for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the director, cast, set designers, editors, screenwriters, or anybody else who had anything to do with this film.

My disappointment in this film is partially the fault of a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I'll explain.

Recently, I visited the Met in Manhattan. I had specifically gone to check out Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. That's the big dead shark suspended in the tank of water.

Now even regular readers might not know this about me, but I have the innate sense of direction of a Kalahari Bushman. Unfortunately, the curators at the Met didn't store this thing in Kalahari bush. Rather, it's in an impossible until you stumble over it and it becomes obvious spot in the modern art wing and I was forced to ask directions.

The guard I asked not only told me where I could find it, but then asked if I'd seen The Cube.

I said no.

He said that he'd walk to the shark while he explained why I had to see The Cube.

I told him that I didn't want to inconvenience him.

He said it was no trouble at all.

As we walked, he asked if I was familiar with the Hirst thing with the sheep.

I asked if he meant Away from the Flock.

He said maybe. Is that the one with the dissected sheep?

Yep, I said.

Yeah. Then that one.

Apparently, the guard told me, The Cube features a scene in which a horse gets vivisected into slide sections, à la Hirst's Away from the Flock. Only the horse stays alive and it, like gallops in place and stuff. It's crazy.

I promised him I would check it out.

He took a quick step so he was a little ahead of me and turned to face me. He had a serious, driven look on his face. You need to check it out, he told me. You have to.

I promised and again and began to wonder who you call when security is beginning to freak you out.

As luck would have it, the dead shark was in a room that wasn't in his appointed guard-area and he had to stop. I thanked him and said goodbye. He said goodbye, but then just stood there. He watched me as if he expected me turn and shout out how I'd never watch The Cube. I wasn't interested in his stupid movie. And when I asked about the shark, I had known where it was all along. I was just faking it.

Dude, he shouted. You have to watch it.

I waved half-heartedly back to him. Thanks. I will. Thanks.

When I got home – concerned that the Met may somehow have my home address – I queued The Cube.

The plot of The Cube is pleasingly simple. A group of maybe not so random strangers wakes up inside a maze of cube-shaped rooms, each of which contain six doors, all of which lead to nearly identical cube shaped rooms. Running along the base of each door are three four-digit numbers in a numerical code. In some of the rooms are really nasty traps. Some quick exploration reveals that there is no food or water in the maze, giving those trapped within a practical limit of three days before their situation is resolved for them by biology. Though this only represents an outside limit of human endurance – prior to that, the maze's captives can expect to tire, lose their mental faculties, experience paranoia, and suffer other symptoms that doctors agree generally lead to the rapid escalation of dramatic tension.

Faced with a hopeless situation, our mixed bag of victims start applying Jason Shiga-grade leaps of logical daring-do to puzzle their way out of this endlessly recursive death trap. Along the way, as all good mixed victim groups must, secrets are revealed and Important Social Messages are shared before somebody plays the "Holy Crap, I've Done Gone Crazy" card.

There's one brilliantly innovative thing about The Cube: the Cube itself. Restricted-budget filmmakers should take note of how Natali's concept allowed him to shoot the whole thing on an 18-foot by 18-foot by 18-foot set – meaning he figured out how to make a cheap horror flick that wasn't another tired slasher rehash or zombie pic, both of which are to untalented novice filmmaker what patriotism is to scoundrels. And what a set it is! The mind-numbing effect of the repeated, color-coded cubes give the whole flick an almost hypnotic power.

I say almost because it ultimately isn't enough to completely overwhelm what's wrong with The Cube. In contrast to the innovation shown in the wonderfully absurd and pleasingly minimalist premise, the characters and their dialog-driven development just die (figuratively, though there are more than couple literal ones too) on-screen. I started watching this flick with my wife and she punched clock about 30 minutes in. When I asked what she didn't like, she answered that she knew how the whole thing went: The victims all hate one another more and more and they all die. She didn't need to sit through the whole running time to watch that shopworn scenario play out. While I don't feel quite so strongly about it as she did, she has a point. Though the cast is game, the characters feel predictable. In case you miss it, they're given long-winded speeches on the importance of leadership in crisis situations, the value of empathy, the need for hope and so on. For the film viewer who likes their movie watching experience to be truly hands off, characters even give spot on psychoanalytic readings of other characters. They start as types and then trace development arcs so pat and pre-programmed that, on at least one occasion, I found myself later thinking that a character had done or said something insensible, but something I missed at the time because it was the sort of thing Character Model 943-ST always does or says at that point in the movie. Where the characters do diverge from a standard template, it feels less like an outgrowth of their character and more like a necessity of the film's unique set and the unusual narrative requirements it imposes. Here, more than anywhere else, viewers can see that the only really important character on the screen is the Cube itself.

This clear prioritization of the situation over the character is not, innately, a bad idea. Oldboy's most interest stretch, the first half or so of the flick, is driven by the fact that we know everything about the character's situation, but nothing about the character. Several signature character's from the Eastwood collection exist solely for their situation without feeling clockwork. The Cube just can't make it work. Partially because the film can't decide whether it wants to be a vividly realized nightmare or a grand social statement. It might be possible to be both (I doubt it, but I grant the possibility), but that remains a firmly hypothetical statement.

The unsatisfying lack of explanation regarding the Cube similarly reinforces the feeling that you've got a set in search of a story. In the parlance of amateur film critics, the Cube doesn't give viewers all the answers. What's not so great is that it does give viewers plenty of them, just none of the answers that would improve your viewing experience. For instance, everything you need to know about the characters is handed to you on a silver platter. But, every possible answer about the Cube – the real star – is half-baked and ultimately unsatisfying in frustrating, rather than apatite whetting, way. There are some mysteries that don't have answers, but there are other mysteries that simply don't have any logic. The former can be absurdity or depth. The latter is creative laziness or sloppy thinking. The Cube is firmly the latter. The answer to the Cube's reason for being is the movie itself: Somebody came up with a superneato death trap that was just too spiffy not to put people in. The Cube does have perhaps the most honest tagline in all of film history: "Don't look for a reason. Look for a way out." If I may be so bold, I'll go them one further and suggest you avoid finding a way in.

You know what else the movie lacks?

You've probably figured it out by now.

There's no freakin' Hirst vivisected horsey. It was a lie. A terrible, bold-faced, big-ol', pants en fuego, heartlessly cruel lie.

I'll never trust the guards at the Met again.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Link Proliferation: Does this killer robot make my ass look big?

Here's you freebie horror movie premise

Swarms of rabid vampire bats! For realz!

From a nearly half-year old Daily Express article:

It might sound like something from a horror film but a plague of blood-sucking bats is being blamed for the deaths of at least 38 jungle tribespeople.

Many of the victims in the South American tropics bore the tell-tale twin puncture marks synonymous with vampire folklore. Before death, they experienced fever, body pains and tingling in the feet, followed by progressive paralysis and an extreme fear of water.

It is believed the bats were carrying the deadly rabies virus which they spread to the villagers – including many young children – through their lethal bite.


One of the villages, Mukuboina, lost eight of its 80 inhabitants – all of them children. And all victims throughout the area died within two to seven days.

The article even includes a pic of one of the murderous little beasties. See below.

Here's an added little trivia tidbit for Dracula fans:

[The bats] saliva contains a specialised substance, draculin, which prevents the prey’s blood from clotting so that the bat can carry on feasting.

Birds aren't particularly fond of us either

On his Biofort Web site, Scott Maruna lists 30 documented instances of "avian abduction;" i.e., instances of predatory birds trying to snatch up fun-sized young humans.

Here's a sample of the wares:

27 "With his father's shotgun, 14-year-old John Naglish, Monday, killed a 50-pound Mexican eagle as it swooped toward a baby girl in the yard of his father's farm at 110th and Calumet Lake. The bird had a wing spread of seven feet and would have been able to injure seriously, if not carry away little Jean O'Neil, 13-months-old, target of his swoop. The eagle had been carrying away poultry and small pigs in the vicinity, and the gun had been kept in readiness." (The Pointer, Riverdale, Illinois 9/11/1936)

28 "Cold ran the blood of a Finnish farmer one day in 1931. His two-year-old child had been playing outside his cottage near the Russian border. Now the baby was the gone. He and his friends searched far and wide, found no trace. Last week, near the farmer's home, lumbermen brought down a tall pine tree. High in the branches they spied an eagle's nest. They came close to examine it. What they found made them cross themselves. There, surrounded by tatters of baby clothing, lay the skeleton of a 2-year-old child." (Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin 2/4/1937 from Time magazine)

29 In 1927, Edward Forbush, then the state ornithologist of Massachusetts and the author of A Natural History of American Birds, related the following current account: "M. Spencer Mapes, British Columbia, witnessed an attack by a golden eagle on Ellen Gibbs, nine-years-old…As the child ran toward her house, the eagle flew directly over [Mapes'] head in pursuit of the child. The bird sank its claws into her arms before he could reach her. He had partially disabled the eagle when the child’s mother rushed up and killed it with an ax." (Fresno Bee-Republican, Fresno, California 7/18/1937)

In fact, those birds really kinda hate us

My friend Dave, who I'm certain had nothing but the best reasons to be over on the Barbie Collector Web Site, sent me the following link to the official Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds Barbie Doll.

From Mattel's marketing copy:

In 1963, Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, gave us a tale of terror not soon forgotten in his film “The Birds.” Dressed in a re-creation of the stylish green skirt-suit worn by the film’s ill-fated heroine in an iconic scene, Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” Barbie® Doll celebrates the 45th anniversary of the acclaimed film. From the doll’s classic ensemble to the perfectly painted expression to the accompanying black birds, every aspect captures the film’s infamous appeal.

A Note to Parents: The Birds is rated PG-13. Consult for further information.

Skynet says, "You better work it, honey!"

Killer robot cheesecake pin-ups? Wired magazine shares the annual vendor-gift calendar of Qinetiq (pronounced "kinetic"), makers of the robotic war machine the Talon.

No time for naps?

What we can expect next time a giant monster stomps on Manhattan.

Well, my nervous and putrid disorders have been acting up

The New York Times book review of David Dary's new Frontier Medicine, a history of the medical (mal)practices of the untamed territories.

It contains some choice archaic practices:

In the frontier West, Mr. Dary writes, “If someone had a medical emergency, he usually had three choices: find a doctor or perhaps an apothecary, treat himself or die.” Once a doctor did arrive, the situation could grow more dire, and more strange. Bloodletting was often accomplished by the application of leeches.

“Occasionally a patient might swallow one,” Mr. Dary writes. “If that happened, the patient was given a glass of wine every 15 minutes to destroy the leech.”

And then there's this cure for "all nervous and putrid disorders:"

Take a young fat dog and kill him, scald and clean him as you would a pig, then extract his guts through a hole previously made in his side, and substitute in the place thereof, two handfuls of nettles, two ounces of brimstone, one dozen hen eggs, four ounces of turpentine, a handful of tansy, a pint of red fishing worms, and about three-fourths of a pound of tobacco, cut up fine; mix all those ingredients well together before [they are] deposited in the dog’s belly, and then sew up the whole, then roast him well before a hot fire as hot as you can bear it, being careful not to get wet or expose yourself to damp or night air, or even heating yourself, or in fact you should not expose yourself in any way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Movies: Head like a hole.

Trawling around for music videos on the old YouTube led me, somehow, to this nifty little sci-fi meets Office Space morality tale.

I don't know how horror it is, but I know how much I was amused. And I want you to be that amused too. Maybe we here at ANTSS are just big hearted that way. Maybe it's the holiday season. Let's not question it, let's just enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Comics: There's no business like it, no business I know.

There's something self-defeating about the venerable genre of the showbiz satire.

First, they're blatantly the product of such massive egocentric self-regard that they end up mash letters no matter what the original intent was. This problem is further compounded by the fact that, in the audience versus entertainer dynamic that these satires inevitably evoke, its clear the entertainers would rather be entertainers – regardless of what the satirist claims about the breed – than one of the faceless crowd.

Second, done well, the showbiz satire is so damn entertaining. Since that's the point of the entertainment industry, the whole is thing is like shipping botulinum to the Platinum Triangle. But, from West's Day of the Locusts to Stiller's Tropic Thunder, from Fritz Freleng's "Show Biz Bugs" to Altman's The Player, top notch showbiz satires deliver the goods.

But it's the latter, more than any presumption of a moral good or the idea that we've seen the real face of the man behind the curtain, that keeps us coming back.

While not a Day of the Locust or The Player, Harold Sipe and Hector Casanova's Screamland is a smartly done light satire of the dirty business of dreams and a heartfelt ode to the Universal Age of horror cinema. Collected in a new trade with some additional materials, this 5-ish mini is built around the premise that cinematic monsters are real, very much alive, and mostly residing in the Los Angeles area.

The comics begin with Frankenstein's monster, now a marginally functional alcoholic living off sickly replacement parts from second-tier donor sources. Through a series True Hollywood Stories-grade flashbacks, the reader gets a quick overview of how Frank got to this sorry state. After his golden age as king of the cinematic monsters, Frank found himself out of date and unfashionable during the space aliens and giant insect days of the 1950s. Falling in with Ed Wood, he made a few cheapie T&A features before dropping off the radar altogether. He could have lived well off his legacy, but he dumped all his scratch into an ill-advised monster-porn Web site that went belly up and left him busted. Hence his current wallowing in loserhood: balding, pickled, and shriveled next to ill-kept pool at a run down condo complex in some L.A. armpit nabe for the forgotten and unmourned.

But all is not lost . . . Frank's agent is getting the band back together.

The wonderfully named Trent Octane, a videogame designer making the leap to cinema, is adapting Monsterhunter 3000, think a manga Buffy with less soap opera bloat and more Asian schoolgirl fanservice. To seal the directing gig, Octane has to go all live action, a stipulation that includes the monsters to be hunted. The film's producers think the project can snag some of the aging demographic is Octane taps the legends: Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, and Dracula.

What follows are three single issues, each focusing on one of the series's monster stars, then a final tie-it-all-up issue on the set of M3K.

The Mummy, my least favorite of the actual Universal stable, gets the most interesting single issue. The first of he quartet to fall out of favor with the fans, Mummy's career tanked fast. Then, in the 1950s, he fell under suspicion in the case of a missing stand-up comedian who had roasted the ancient monster as part of his act. After landing some embarrassing television guest spots, Mummy packed it up and headed back to Egypt. Once back in Egypt, Mummy sued the United States to recover Egyptian artifacts kept in various American museums. During the long suit, words were said, accusations leveled, and, ultimately, the acrimony attracted the attention of Homeland Security. Mysterious figure with a shady past goes back to Islamic North Africa and starts snatching up valuables that could be used for funding who knows what – yeah, somebody makes the no-fly list.

With its nod to security fears and the on-going efforts of second world nations to repatriate masterworks of their cultural heritage, the Mummy's tale is the most original of the background stories. The Wolf Man, whose recap occurs during a Sci-Fi convention and includes some fish-in-barrel shooting of Trekkers, and Dracula, a Rock Hudson-esque tale of life in celluloid closet with a nice Red Scare overlay, are a little too familiar. When dealing with Drac and Wolfie, the series becomes less a show biz satire than a mirror of the show biz press and it suffers slightly for the added distance.

Still, despite the occasional lapse into simple mimicry rather than parody, the story keeps a rapid pace and the characterizations are strong enough to carry readers over any rough patches.

Casanova's art is a mixed bag, always nice to look at if not always effective. His stylized characters are great. He's able to communicate what was so awesome about these horror icons while still communicating how far they've fallen. Frank's spindly frame suggests the strength he once had. Drac's sinister cool still peaks out from behind a jaded and tedious Euro-trash, cheek air kissing exterior. The Wolf Man's pear-shaped body hints at still ravenously destructive appetites and urges. The character designs are top notch.

Sadly, his work on other aspects of the book seems rushed. Panel flow, great in some places, falls apart in others. There are some wonderfully detailed splash pages, but on other pages minimally sketched characters will just hang before a completely empty background for a handful of panels. Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I'm going to assume that Casanova's best work in here is the rule and not the exception. By that standard, I'm hoping he'll have whatever he needs to avoid corner cutting in future issues (though this seems like a complete story, there's a teasing "1" on the spine). That said, I love Casanova's brilliant covers, all reproduced within the trade. Riffing off everything from 1960's psychedelic poster-art to the ink work of Gorey, the covers for the original series are pretty damn nifty.

More a love letter to a quartet of classic horror icons than a poison pen screed to Tinsel Town, Screamland is going to appeal more to fans of the former than folks looking for the latter to take Hollywood down a peg. In this, it is more Who Framed Roger Rabbit than The Stunt Man. For those fans, Screamland is a real treat.

The trade is out from Image and will run you $17.

Plus, even I, Lucas, have heard that there's a cameo appearance in the comic by everybody's favorite Fish-Man.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Music: Wisely, he did not invite Betsy to this particular show.

In my previous post regarding Fido, I mentioned that we'd seen two zombie stripper projects in as many years. Enquiring readers wanted to know what project other than 2008's Zombie Strippers was I referring too.

If you've lost sleep over this, I was referring to the '06 music video for Naked Ape's "Redo/Undo," which features what appears to be a slowly zombificatin' Travis Bickle watching a rotting corpse poll dance. It was part of an even pair of zombies-gone-wild videos the band dropped that year. Their vid for "Fashion Freak" featured zombies as naught car washers. It also included a pretty bad looking CGI zombie lap dog.

This is probably not safe for work. Heck, it might not be safe for your home. I don't know where you live, right? Zombie strippers, wet t-shirts of the damned, bad CGI – that's as honest a description of these videos as you're ever going to get. Click the white arrows at your discretion.

Here's "Fashion Freak."

And here's the cadaverous gyrations of "Redo/Undo."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Movies: "A modest proposal" or "A vote for the Zombie Adjustment Agency is a vote for the future."

Fido, Andrew Curries's 2006 zombedy, is an innovative and clever flick that suffers from the fact that, at this point, making a zombie film is somewhat like announcing that you're going make a cop buddy pic in which two mismatched partners, perhaps some young gun who doesn't play by the rules and an old hand who is getting a bit long in the tooth for these shenanigans, learn to work together in the course of solving an action-packed case whose implications go all the way to the top. Sure, there's room for innovation there. But that room is more a product of the fact that all artistic endeavors carry in them gaps and lacunae that can be filled, rather than due to the innate lure of a concept that still has so much more to give to the genre.

Honestly, what can be said when we've been afflicted with not one, but two zombie stripper projects in the past two years?

Well within their analog for the "Jason's Manhattan vacation" stage of slasher flicks, zombie films have lapsed into their decadent period and almost can't help but become self-referential parodies. In 2007, both 28 Weeks Later and Grindhouse, apparently in independent incidences of inspiration, included scenes in which helicopter blades go all lawnmowery on a flesh-hungry horde of mindless cannibals. Only the presence of Rose McGowan gave eagle-eyed viewers a hint as to which of these two scenes was meant as an over-the-top parody.

In fact, even the figure of the zombie itself is dangerously close to becoming a postmodern joke with a Moebius Strip for a punchline. An overwhelming horde of dead, thoughtless things destroying all life before their relentless shuffling – zombies are the single best symbol we have for the zombie industry.

Which is a shame, 'cause there's still good stuff like Fido getting cranked out.

Let's get to the movie proper, and then I'll give you my modest proposal for ending the Great Zombie Depression.

Fido is a wonderfully built, delightfully silly comedy that takes place in an alternate 1950s in which . . . aw, heck, why don't I just let Fido do the yeoman work? Here's a nice educational-film-within-a-film that opens our flick and efficiently does all the heavy-lifting worldbuilding exposition in just a few minutes:

Into the world of Zomcom town-fortresses, we get Timmy. Little Timbo is a socially awkward youth with a dysfunctional family and bully problems. At home, his dad is emotionally stunted because he had to off his own pops in the zombie war and his mom is a hollow shell of Ike Era femininity who fills her intellectual, social, and sexual cravings with a unsatisfying habit of chasing the material signifiers of prosperity. At school, the too-thoughtful Timmy is the target of taunting by a pair of Zomcon Scouts, a sort of corporate sponsored cross between Hitler Youth and the Boy Scouts.

Spurred by the material wealth of their new neighbors – like plantations of the antebellum South, the number of zombies a household owns in the post-Zed War 1950s is a synecdoche for prosperity and status – Timmy's mom (played with winking campy gusto by Carrie-Anne Moss) purchases a new zombie. Tim's pops, still dealing with PTSD zombie fears, hates the new undead appliance. Timmy is indifferent to the reanimated corpse until the creature stops the Bully Scouts one day in the park. Suddenly seeing the undead chattel as a pet, Timmy dubs the zombie Fido and they quickly become best friends.

Unfortunately, Fido's collar is a bit twitchy. It blinks off at an unfortunate moment and Fido chomps down on the neighborhood snoop and busybody. As these things do, each zombie mishap breeds more zombie mishaps and, before you can say "That's a lovely dress Mrs. Cleaver," Zomcom's gung ho security chief is asking questions and on the trail of Fido.

To make matters even weirder, mom and pops's marriage, never all that sturdy to begin with, gets wobbly when the zombiphoic dad detects some smoldering sexual tension between mom and the new servant/appliance/family pet.

Unlike the other zombedy to which Fido is inevitably compared, Wright's superlative Shaun of the Dead, director Currie keeps thing light and likable. Though there's a fairly sizable bodycount, Currie manages to communicate the idea that there's nothing bigger than a boy and his dog (where dog = zombie) tale here. The film riffs off the great Western secular religions of consumerism and conformity, but the targets of these light and passing jabs are so abstracted into realm of media allusion as to become little more than nods to shared TV Land references. This isn't the 1950s as it was lived; it's the world of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave It to Beaver." The metaphorical implications of the zombies are left shallow and unresolved. Are they meant to be understood as pets? Bits of domestic technology? Slaves? Minorities? At various points in the film, one or all of these interpretations make sense – but none of them ever gets developed or applied to film in a holistic way that would give viewers a framework to interpret. Even within the film this sort of lack of a cohesive understanding seems the norm. Timmy can think of Fido the zombie as a faithful pet-like companion and mom can get all manner of nether-tingles over him, but no conflict will arise even though, from Timmy's frame of reference, this means mom wants special grown up time with the creature who is essentially his dog. Furthermore, whatever metaphorical slot you push them into, the film never really tries to get over the fact that, as a rule of thumb, it's really only a form of massive and innately nonconsensual behavior modification that makes the zombies not fulfill their natural inclinations and make with the chomp-chomp. Which, if you think on it too long, is a troubling aspect of the zombie-human romantic relationships depicted in the film (aside from the whole necrophilia angle, of course). How much of a romantic relationship can you have if your partner's personality is the product of brainwashing? I bring this up here, but the film never gets that interested in such questions.

This isn't a criticism of Fido. In fact, it is the key to its success. Instead of philosophical gravitas or social relevance, charm is what holds the film together. The fantasy world of the film doesn't just defy disbelief, it flaunts its impossibility. Even if one granted that people could survive in little fortress-towns, where are they getting all these fabulous new clothes? How do they get gas for those chromed out road-boats that ruled the pre-eco-guilt streets of America? This sort of nitpicking is so rarely helpful that it seems silly, but Fido is almost pick-proof in its refusal to even bother with those problems. Its embraces it premise with the ease of a confident humorists setting up a gag. Why would a priest, a rabbi, a blonde, and a giraffe all walk into a bar together? Because it'll be funny, trust me. The trick with this sort of loose and easy storytelling is that you actually have to be pretty accomplished to pull it off. And, happily, Currie and company are up to the task.

The flick looks great. I've said before that we've entered an era where even tiny productions, given the talent and insight, have the technical resources to produce a professional film. While this is, I think, the defining trait of the modern era of indie film, it does give short shrift to flick's like Fido. This film nails a sun-warmed, crisp neverwas 1950s that can make a viewer born more than a decade later nostalgic for the Father Knows Best boyhood they never had. Though they're given intentionally thin roles, the cast embraces the project and has a ball. Even comedian Billy Connolly, who has no lines a thick layer of zombie make-up to deal with, gives his character some real on-screen presence. Together, this crew delivers the gags with skill and the jokes land more often than they miss.

Fido is pop candy in the best sense. Entertaining, quirky, innocently good-natured, humorous, innovative in a non-presupposing way, and well executed, it has something of the pre-Batman Burton about it. It will be a bit too tame for horror junkies looking for thrills, but for those looking for some a clever fantasy tale end a long day on an up note or fill a chilly afternoon, you could do a lot worse.

And out . . .

Now let's cut the crap and get down to brass tacks.

We've just got too much zombie crap floating around out there. If Fido had come out five or six years ago, I think it might have made a large impact on the horror-o-sphere. Even if it'd come out today, but not been one of a seemingly endless stream of zombie flicks, Lego models, foodstuffs, and social events, it might not seem so (unfairly) ordinary. But that's economics for you: when you glut the market and supply outpaces demand, the value of the commodity sinks.

Here's my proposal. We take a page from the FDR's New Deal. Back in Great Depression I, farmers faced an unusual problem. They were overproducing to such a great degree that they destabilized their own prices. They were making more food, all of it valued less, and starving in the midst of their own plenty. With the passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1933, the Agricultural Adjustment Agency set product limits, called domestic allotments, on basic agricultural crops. Those allotments set the amount of corn, wheat, beans, whatever, that a farmer could send to market. Anything produced over that amount, the government bought and destroyed. By creating a flexible level of artificial scarcity, the government prevented the bottom from falling out on the agricultural sector. It drove up market prices, which was good for the farmer, and prevented a real and inflexible scarcity that would have been the product of farm failure, which was ultimately good for the consumer.

I think we should do the same with zombie crap.

We create a Zombie Adjustment Agency. This government group will set undead allotments for each medium, regulating the number of zombie-themed films, music videos, games, cereals, clothing, novels, short story anthologies, parades, feminine hygiene products and whatever the hell else people can think of that can actually head to market. Any zombie production past those allotments is purchased by the government at a reasonable price and destroyed.

And if you get clever and pull a "they're not zombies, but actually people infected with the rage virus" then it's off to Gitmo with you. The zombie bubble is going to burst any second. We don't have time for your crap now.

My fellow Internetians, I know this sounds like a drastic measure. But these are drastic times. Right now as we speak, people are writing scripts about zombie old-folks homes, planning novels in which Cotton Mather fights British Red Coat zombies, designing video games in which vampire elves fight gay zombie circus performers on the surface of the moon, and plan anthologies about zombies attempting to devour the band Alabama while riding a rollercoaster that travels through multiple dimensions. All this crap is headed to market as we speak, drowning out the good and lowering the value of every zombie project. We must act and we must act now. We cannot stand idly by and watch this happen to the horror genre. History, and our children - in the metaphorical sense of "our children" as you, the party reading this, and I, the blogger you are reading, have never actually had children together; unless you are one Sandra Helen Baumgartner, current resident of Pocomoke City, Maryland, in which case my lawyers have instructed me to tell you and your attorneys that we are developing a response to your query, please be patient – will not forgive inaction.

Good night. God bless you and God bless the United States of the Collective Sense of Horror-Specific and Horror Interested Blogs and Web Sites, Despite the Lack of Any Formal Organization or Doctrine of Unity.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Link Proliferation: And tell her that her lonely nights are over.

We have a winner!

Here's the winner board for the "Tales from the Captcha" contest:

Troy Z wins the big ol' first season of Tales from the Crypt.
OCKerouac wins Billy the Kid's Old Time Oddities.
Sasquatchan has himself a slightly new copy of The Cobbler's Monster.

If you guys could shoot me an email at the following address: [my nom de blog] Let me know where I can send these bad boys and you get them promptly.

Winners were selected at random from the entry pool. If you didn't win this time, I want you to meditate on what you might have done to earn such bad karma that the mysterious forces of randomness at work in the universe have it out for you.

Mutually interred destruction

I'm not a big Metallica fan. In fact, my level of fandom is somewhere between "active avoidance" and "vast indifference." However, their latest video – brought to my attention by the mad genius behind the delightful The Horror!? blog – used animation, "found footage," CGI, and first person camera work to reconstruct a Soviet plan to close the nuclear missile gap with zombie-making spores. It's pretty boss and you can listen to it on mute if Metallica ain't your bag.

Col' lampin'

I have nothing to add other than this very concept makes me all giggly.

And operator, please reverse the charges

From Screamin' Dave over at Forbes' Digital Download blog, the new Ghostbusters videogame trailer.

Regardless of what the trailer does or does not do for you, can we all admit that the bit of concept art below is some of the craziest crap we've ever seen connected to the 'Buster franchise?

Bring me a dream

Over at Horror's Not Dead, Mr. Hall suffers J. T. Petty's faux snuff mockumentary S&Man. His description of the movie is amazing, but what will get your noodle turning about is the following claim:

It matters not whether the Sandman tapes are real, whether Eric Rost is a real person or just a character. He is a parable for a reality we all know exists. There are people who have made real snuff films. There are people who have sought out real snuff films. More frightening than that, no past tense is needed in those sentences. People still make them. There exists today a market for videotapes of real rape, of real torture and of real murder. Or, failing that availability, as close as possible as anyone is willing to simulate.

I can’t think of anything that disturbs me more.

Excluding the claim that there's a snuff market out there – which remains the snuff of urban legend, as it were – is there a moral equivalence between watching simulated snuff and the real thing? If something is simulated so well that it is indistinguishable from the real thing, is the moral cost of consuming it indistinguishable from the real thing?


New Scientist reports a weird correlation between psychopathic tendencies and the ability to recall biographical details of "vulnerable victims." Or, more simply, psychos have victim radar.

From the article:

Contrary to popular belief, most psychopaths are not Jack the Ripper types - often they have never committed a violent crime. But as many as one in 100 people display antisocial behaviours deemed psychopathic. Chief among these is a callous ability to manipulate other people to fulfill their own desires.

To investigate this behaviour, Kevin Wilson of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and colleagues put 44 male college students into two groups according to their scores on a test that measures psychopathic traits. "None of these students qualified as psychopaths, but some did have behaviours associated with psychopaths," says Wilson.

The students were shown a series of faces, each accompanied by a name, a job and details about interests and hobbies. When later asked to recall the details, those with more psychopathic-like behaviours were better at describing sad-looking and unsuccessful females than the normal group, especially details about the women's lives.

So ladies, do try not to be sad-looking and unsuccessful.

The dead travel fast

Over at the made-of-awesome Human Marvels site, there's the tale of Elmer McCurdy, former bank robber and wandering corpse.

In life Elmer McCurdy wasn’t anything special. Elmer wasn’t really unique or extraordinary. It was only following his demise that Elmer amounted to much of anything, when his corpse became famous and the stuff of urban legends.

Maybe this is why Euro-horror seems so lame to me

Over at the Neurophilosophy blog, there's a nice write up a recent study that suggests that expression of the biological fear response may be culture-specific, a case of nature being nurtured.

From the article:

The new study was led by Joan Chiao of the Social and Cultural Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University. 22 volunteers were recruited for the study; 10 were Caucasians living in the United States, and the remaining 12 were native Japanese living in Japan. All the participants were presented with a series of pictures of 80 faces, each for 1.5 seconds, and each depicting an American or a Japanese person expressing either a fearful, happy, angry or neutral facial expression. Their neural responses to the facial expressions in the pictures were measured using functional neuroimaging.

The results:

Both groups of participants could recognize the emotions depicted in the pictures very accurately. Interestingly though, the Japanese participants were significantly quicker in recognizing fear in all the pictures, while the Americans were significantly more accurate at recognizing fear in pictures of people from their own culture. More importantly, the response of the amygdala was increased when the participants recognized fear in pictures of members of their own cultural group relative to others. Hemispheric differences were also observed: the increase in amygdala activity in response to fear recognition in own-culture faces was significantly greater in the right amygdala than in the left. By contrast, no significant differences in amygdala activity was observed when the participants viewed pictures of happy, angry or neutral expressions.

Earlier neuroimaging studies have shown that white Americans show an increased response in the amygdala when presented, either consciously or unconsciously, with pictures of black Americans with neutral expressions. By contrast, no differences in the response to neutral faces of either cultural group were observed in this study, even though Americans often hold positive sterotypes of Asians. Thus, the earlier observations may have been due to cultural knowledge of the negative sterotypes about African-Americans, rather than negative stereotypes of members of other ethnic groups per se. This is supported by the finding in the earlier studies that black Americans also exhibit increased activity in the amygdala in response to pictures of black people with neutral expressions.

Sir Larry's "Hard Day's Night"

This has nothing to do with horror. But it's pretty funny.

Here's Peter Seller's doing the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" in the manner of Olivier's take on Shakespeare's Richard III. Don't try to wrap your head around that description, just watch.

Have a great weekend, my little Screamers and Screamettes.