Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stuff: "I have a problem with mirrors."

Over in the UK, the Portsmouth branch of the National Health Service (NHS) is trying to combat what the BBC delicately calls the region's "traditionally poor levels of dental health" with a new public service campaign. Bad teeth? Solution: vampires. Enjoy.

Due to Blogger's sudden inability to size video worth a damn, I'll also provide this link to AdWeek, where you can see the ad in its full ratio aspect: Take me to where they know how a video should treated!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stuff: What scares the scary people?

Time has gathered up a small list of notable horror worthies and asked them the obvious, "What scares you?"

Here's a couple of sample answers:

The single scariest moment I have ever had in entertainment came during Diabolique [the 1955 film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot]. It is the moment when the corpse in the bathtub opens its eyes and shows nothing but bulging whites. - Stephen King


Nothing. - Elvira


I've always loved ghost stories, writers like M.R. James, L.P. Hartley, Joan Aiken, Stephen King, Joe Hill. But the scariest story I've ever heard was a true ghost story.

There were eight or nine of us at a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, and we were telling ghost stories. The friend of a friend said, 'When I was a girl living in Texas, I had a recurring dream. In this dream, I was walking down the street of my hometown, and a man would walk toward me. Sometimes he was older and sometimes he was younger. He didn't always have the same face, but I always knew it was the same man. He would get closer and closer, and I would know that something bad was going to happen, but I would wake up each time before he reached me. I would be terrified. One night, in my dream, we finally got face to face and I spoke to him. I said, "What is your name?" He said, "My name is Sammy." And then I woke up, and I was so afraid that I couldn't go back to sleep. I went to my sister's room and said, "Can I get in bed with you? I've just had a really bad dream." My sister said, "Was it Sammy?" I said, "What did you say? How do you know Sammy?" And my sister said, "I don't. But you just brought him in the room with you." I turned on the lights and I saw that my sister was asleep. - Kelly Link


Other respondents include Eli Roth, R. L. Stine, Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, and Joe Hill.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Stuff: "What's nice about Selphyl is you're only using that person's blood."

It's a good Wednesday when you get to announce a "vampire body modification link dump." If only 'cause it's fun to type the phrase "vampire body modification."

Link the first! Unlike vampires, who stay sparkly fresh for all eternity, pure strain humans get old. It's true. Along with nipples on men, confirmation bias, and the fact that at least one of us became Daniel Tosh, it ranks one of homo sapiens' most notable design flaws. And, while you'll still eventually die, the "vampire face-lift" can help ensure that your corpse's face is pleasingly wrinkle-free. The procedure gets its name from the fact that plastic surgeons use the patient's own blood to fight the wrinkles. From the ABC News article:

The technology is called Selphyl, and it involves injecting a mixture of blood products into the affected areas. It's also called the "vampire face-lift," although calling it a face-lift is not accurate. Selphyl is a nonsurgical procedure akin to filler injections, while a face-lift is the surgical repositioning of facial tissues that have become loose over time.

Curiously, the procedure's ghastly nickname seems to be part of the draw. Again, from the article:

"I think this whole recent theme in the entertainment industry ... of using vampire, Dracula themes, has definitely caused a lot of the interest out there," Berger said.

Perhaps this marks some final stage in the vampire's transformation from folk nightmare to harmless pop confection: the use of the term vampire can now make a somewhat grisly-sounding product more palatable to the market.

Link the second! The Sun has a brief profile of lawyer and tattoo artist Maria Jose Cristerna, a.k.a. "Vampire Woman." Cristerna, pictured above . . .

. . . says constant beatings and abuse at home triggered her reinvention and led her to ink nearly 100 per cent of her body.

Maria has also added multiple piercings to her face and titanium implants to create "horns" under the skin on her temples and forehead.

The mum-of-four, 35, has even had dental implants to create "fangs" to complete her look — but claims to live a "normal life".

The smirkingly superior attitude of The Sun aside – I see what you're doing with the "claims" bit there – she's a fascinating, and even inspiring woman.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Movies: Last night a psychopathic clan of murderous wacked-out ex-whale hunters saved my life.

The logline sounds like a goof: It's Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a whale watching ship. And, seriously, Harpoon: the Whale Watching Massacre, from the titular allusion [1] to plot point parallels, puts in a few hours of overtime justifying that pitch. The central baddies are refugees from a shuttered industry that's supported them for generations, only it's whaling instead of meat processing. [2] The imdb flick summary uses the term "fishbillies." But whether it's a goof or not is unclear. And even if you consider it a goof, just who is supposed to be the butt of this joke is a mystery.

And, ultimately, who cares? A sporadically competent flick with a vaguely quirky premise, H:tWWM has all the depth and power of a teenage suburban boy's act of minor vandalism. Fueled by an unearned sense of rage, bounded by an poorly grokked half-hearted anarchism, and suffused by a love of vulgar displays of power and a general disdain for suffering as the mark of the weak, the flick is an energetic, but undirected, middle finger at a wide variety of targets. So wide a range, in fact, that the film's weird attempts at a message get as muddled as its often incomprehensible action scenes. If this is a joke, the comedians forgot to include a punchline. [3]

Our story opens when a ethnic grab bag of tourists hops onboard a whale watching boat to catch a glimpse of the sea's mightiest beasts. Ah, and what an amazing group of soon-to-be-victims this is. You couldn't find a bigger collection of assholes outside a Wakefield Poole flick. Though it's perhaps a talent under-appreciated beyond the confines of the slasher fancy, there's a fine art to the creation of a top notch victim pool. The filmmakers need to make the victims inoffensive enough that viewers can stomach being around them for the 30 or 45 minutes they'll be forced to keep company, but they need to make them vile enough that viewers are happy to see them dispatched. It's easy to screw up, so slasher fans enter into a secret compact with horror filmmakers to count as capital crimes a wide host of behaviors that, outside of the realm of horror flicks, wouldn't raise an eyebrow. [4] H:tWWM's director, Júlíus Kemp, either out of bold disregard or energetic incompetence, totally blows this balancing act. He creates a group so richly unpleasant, it's almost luxurious, a extravagant display of human crappiness that makes one wonder if Kemp isn't a genuine misanthrope simply playing at the flaccid and cynical misanthropy-theater of the slasher genre. From the friend who hangs up on a panicked phone call by her crying twice-sexually assaulted and now held capitve by crazies friend with a blithe "I have it when you're freaking on E" to the woman who, despite the fact that they're fighting for their lives against a murderous clan of "fishbillies," finds time to react with disgust to another character's homosexuality, we've got a collection of superlosers. In fact, Kemp seems almost incapable of creating a character who isn't repulsive. The two "heroes" of flick, the only non-grotesques, are so flat and uninteresting as to be bores. One is a woman who, because Kemp drags her through the wringer early in the flick, is a dazed catatonic character through much of the rest of it. The other is black and gay; but not in any significant way, just black and gay in that "the easiest way to get a liberal to trust you" black and gay way.

If Kemp meant for these characters to be figures of satiric comedy, he missed the mark. He is a decidedly unfunny director, even when he's trying to sell the ha-has. Aside from the laughter inducing plea of a Greenpeace member before he gets an axe to the neck - "Don't do this! I'm a friend of the Earth!" - Kemp's got no touch for comedy. Still, his decision to go full a-hole on his characterization does pay off in one huge way. In the character Endo (played by mono-monikered actress Nae, née Nae Tazawa), Kemp's got perhaps the most delightful "final girl" ever created for horror cinema.

Endo is introduced as the mousy, continually abused personal assistant of the cowardly and misogynistic Nobuyoshi, a repugnant Japanese businessman who is traveling with his timid, emotionally-inert wife Yuko. For the first quarter of the flick, Endo staggers around the set, sullenly carrying out Nobuyoshi's orders and occasionally retiringly to a quiet section of the whale ship to pursue her favorite pastime: chewing off scabs and worrying her wounds with her teeth. [5] Eventually, the clan of murderously irate ex-whalers shows up and begin slaughtering everybody. Like all the other characters, Endo begins fighting for her life. The difference is that Endo brings it. If there's questions about it being here, they are settled. It was brought. The bringer of it was Endo.

Let's take a moment to talk about the final girl. The final girl is the Lady Gaga of horror characters: She gets a disproportionate amount of credit for what is, essentially, a relatively small tweak in presentation, while the ostensible core competency (music for Gaga, being a female victim for horror characters) is really pitched to the comfort level of the audience, by either riffing off a familiar, proven, and predictable pool of inspirations meant to flatter the unjust sense of erudition of the consumer/fan or by relying on common genre clichés. She's easy to like, cause she's built to be liked. She's basically every other dead chick's character: her time to be chased comes up in the rotation and she flees screaming. Only we haven't spent all film inventing reasons - reasons that we don't even believe - that she should die and, though it's been a losing strategy for every other woman in the film, running around screaming works for the final girl. Very rarely, a final girl will show some genuine resourcefulness and vigor. Nancy in the first Nightmare flick is notably feisty, with her pre-game research and booby-trap creation effort. Mostly though, the survivability of the final girl is simply a product of their commitment to cardio exercise and the fact that fans demand somebody whose not the killer be standing in the last reel. Honestly, her importance to modern fans rest mostly on an ill-understood and very dubious theory that states that the existence of the final girl makes it morally okay to watch films that are naked exploitations of the perverse desire many fans apparently have to watch young flesh be ripped apart. She's our out. We're not morbid little trolls because, you know, though we've totally been cheering on the deaths of however many kids, we're Kool and the Gang because, look, we totally were all on the side of the final girl.

But back to Endo . . .

Endo is a final girl we can believe in. The central crisis of the film is a transformative moment for her. When Endo decides she's the final girl, nobody - killers or other members of the victim pool - are safe from her. While the other's are scrambling around the ship, engaging in sporadic and often one-sided encounters with the baddies, Endo sees the this horrific rupture as the end of her old life. The moment a freakin' whaling harpoon plunges through the corpulent body of her boss, Endo realizes that she's not only fighting for her life, but she's fighting for a meaningful life. She won't go back to being the timid, scab-eater we've known for the first quarter of the film. She's reborn. The brilliance of this is that, un-Scrooge-like, this personal revelation turns Endo into a complete bitch. She's willing to gain any advantage over any other character in the flick, from demanding money for taking one of the characters away with her in a dock boat to convincing a mentally shattered and traumatized woman that it's logical to allow Endo to fit her up like a suicide bomber. (In a deliciously nasty touch, Endo decides not to leave the decision to kill herself up to the kamikaze woman/antipersonnel device, so she pushes her onto an enemy harpoon, dooming her and another of the members of the victim pool, who might have escaped without Endo's intervention.) Once Endo really finds her stride, she becomes the most dangerous person in the film. It's a refreshing take on a weak trope that had, long ago, become a goofy crutch for horror filmmakers.

Is Endo enough to make this film worth watching? Look, I don't give number ratings or pretend this is a consumer advocacy sort of thing because I can't imagine you're smart enough to read and yet, somehow, haven't figured out the sort of film you'll dig. If you're into horror, you've already developed a sense of the sort of flicks you'll risk wasted time on and those films you won't. In a genre so filled with stinkers, you've got to evolve such a sense. Slasher flick on whale boat: if that's your thing, go to town.

[1] The allusion is made all the more clearly in the films alternate title: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre. Apparently, the more locale-specific title graced the flick on its debut in Iceland, but public distaste over the film's more squishy parts led the filmmakers to rebrand the flick with a more generic title.

[2] Curiously, both flicks seem to suggest that generational involvement with a single industry - something that used to be a symbol of community coherence, but is now apparently a sign of stagnation - is akin (no pun intended) to voluntarily limiting the gene pool: working at the same craft your father did means, apparently, that you'd also breed with close relatives.

[3] And this is coming from a big fan of suburban boys' acts of vandalism.

[4] This compact between viewer and filmmaker is the source of the oft repeated, but not wholly accurate characterization of of the killing-for-kissing morality of slashers as "conservative." It's probably a better characterization to say that slashers exhibit a self-contained ironic hyper-punative morality that replaces fate with narrative utility. Characters engage in some putatively "bad" behavior, though this behavior is, honestly, nothing the filmmakers or the viewers care about, in a moral sense. The reason the nubile teen coed shimmies out of her clothing as soon as possible and then gets an axe to the face isn't because the filmmakers or audience members have any investment in the notion that sexual activity should be punished by death. (Indeed, if either party believed this, the film's would be put in the awkward position of condemning both parties - audience and filmmakers - to death for involving them in softcore skin displays. This is why there's not a huge tradition of teensploiter slashers in, say, Taliban controlled cultures.) Rather, the camp tramp gets the business end of a chopper because she was hired to expose her tits and, that being done, there's nothing else to do with her. That there appears to be a reason - the odd moral calculus of the genre - simply serves to obscure the clumsy mechanical nature of the subgenre formula. Maintaining the fiction that there's some non-financial logic to it requires the viewer and filmmakers constantly push the bar to "sin" lower and lower, until we get moral statements like "you're fat, so you deserve death" and "you just know a midget's got it coming to them." Nobody actually holds these absurd positions. They aren't really even positions. We pick them up just for the flick and then leave them on the floor of the theater, with the rest of the rubbish.

[5] It's part of Kemp's, um, charms as a director that he loves the gross shit that bodies do. And, by this, I don't just mean the horrific gore we can emit when somebody unzips some cavity. Kemp seems to take a positive pleasure in showing people vomiting, picking at scabs, sweating, and so on. There's no toilet scene, but I imagine an extensive and utterly repulsively messy scene exists in some director's cut version.