Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Everything Old is New Again

I got to work one day in the middle of last week to find that the top story on every one's minds would not be included in that morning's broadcast. We would be airing stories of mainly local interest while the rest of the country murmured excitedly about the spectacle Michael Richards had made of himself at a comedy club a few days before. I admit I was schocked. I was even more shocked when I went to youtube and watched the full video made during his racist tirade against a couple of noisy audience members. Shocked by the language and anger, yes, but also shocked because I would have expected Michael Richards to have gotten used to hecklers by now. This man has been in the business of comedy for decades, you would think he'd know how to handle a noisy crowd.

My shock turned to disappointment when I later saw him on Letterman, doing his best Hugh Grant/Mel Gibson impersonation and offering meaningless apologies to the audience, and to the African American community in general. I understand the need to get in front of the bullet and make your apologies, but it was the same old 'I'm not a racist' crap you hear from everyone who gets caught being a racist, and it was so obviously not meant, that the overall apathy I felt towards the incident turned into the anger that most people had already felt.

See, in the end, no matter what pretty things we try to say, we are ALL racist. At least a little bit. We all see someone walking down the street and immediately form a snap-judgement based on what we've been brought up to believe. It's something that everyone does, and it's not going to go away in my lifetime. Most likely not in my daughter's lifetime, either. I admit it, I immediately make incorrect judgments about people I see when I first meet them. All that talk about not judging a book by it's cover is never going to be accurately applied in the real world. The thing is, as human beings capable of rational thought, we dismiss those judgments and allow ourselves to form a more informed opinion. But sometimes, rational thought leaves us, and we're left with these horrible stereotypes that we see everywhere. As in what happened to Mr. Richards.

If Mr. Richards had done the talk show rounds and admitted to being a racist, admitted that it was how he was raised, and that he tries to deal with it but apparently he's going to need help, I would have respected the man. Instead we've taken another opportunity for a few people to have an open conversation and covered it up with generic apologies that no one really means.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rest in Peace

I was at work today, planning to post something about the new Bond film, when across the AP wire came the news that Robert Altman had died. This certainly isn't unexpected, he was getting up there in years, but it's still depressing. I'm not what one would call a devotee of Altman, and I'm certainly no expert, but I've always enjoyed his films and try my best to see whatever new he has coming out. It can be argued that he got into a groove with his films and stuck close to his formula of intertwined stories, star-studded ensembles, and famous overlapping dialogue. Look beyond those window dressings and you'll see that up until the last he was looking for new stories to tell, new genres to explore. Most famously Gingerbread Man, a thriller that he took on merely because he'd never made one before.

He has an enormous catalog of classics to look into, but it'll always be a shame that there are no more to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Those Creepy Dead Folks

For Halloween, I put some thought into what I should write about. What about horror is so important to me that it deserves the top spot on the calender. The answer was actually pretty simple; Zombies! I love zombies, zombie movies, zombie books, zombie comics, songs about zombies, the game Zombies!, all of it. Zombies make everything more fun, and they've been the most consistently enjoyable monster in all sorts of horrible movies. Zombies have great inherent terror. No matter how fun or funny the movie, you can't mask how terrifying the thought of a horde of dead loved ones slowly chasing you down and trying to eat you is. That's where Shaun of the Dead got it so right, the movie never shied away from the fear aspect of it, making the comedy that much more convincing.

George Romero gets all the credit for creating the zombie genre way back with Night of the Living Dead, and while he didn't quite create zombies, he certainly stylised them in a way that is still widely used today. Zombies may run, they may even have minimal vocal abilities, but in the end they're just variations on the type of zombie created. When I first saw Night of the Living dead, I enjoyed it, but felt that maybe it would have been better had I seen it when it was first released. I felt that it was a bit slow and unsophisticated for our times. I was an idiot. As I've gone back to it over the years it's genius was slowly made evident to me, and I now realize just how great a feat George Romero pulled.

I don't mean this to infer anything about the behind the scenes struggles, although it is impressive just what he was able to get away with, I mean that the movie itself is an impressive and compact work. Right from the beginning the movie wastes no time(a trait many zombie films share), throwing you into it unexpectedly fast. Most horror movies have a time of lengthy buildup, with creepy foreshadowing as we get to know the characters and try and guess who will live. Not so with zombie movies, for the most part. Right from the opening scene the action starts with a surprise death that gives us no time to wonder about who will live through the movie, introducing all the characters as the horror unfolds. It took me awhile to realize what Romero was doing here, how he wastes no moment of film progressing the story, and yet none of the characters ever explain the plot to the audience. Every scene without dialogue, where the characters are doing things like boarding up windows and doors, has a voice over from a radio announcement or TV news story, filling the audience in on whats going on out in the real world without pausing the film's action. The movie is tight and fast moving despite basically setting all the action in a small, claustrophobic setting that never changes throughout the film.

A lot of talk goes into the end of the movie, and the famous image of Ben, a black man, fighting off the groping hands of the all-white zombies. George Romero says this was never a political statement, that Duane Jones was chosen only for his acting ability not the color of his skin. And while I can't imagine that the thought never once crossed his mind during production on the film, I'm inclined to believe it was only a happy accident that dovetailed nicely with one of the underlying themes of the movie. It may be at it's most subtle here, but this movie definitely showcases Romero's left leaning political views without once becoming preachy, or shoving it's ideology down your throat.

The same might not be able to be said about his sequel, Dawn of the Dead, but this film was never once meant to be subtle. Humorous, dramatic, with more action and a much larger scale than the first movie ever imagined, this is the movie that will haunt Romero to his grave. No matter what he does, it will most likely be compared(probably unfairly) to this masterpiece. Where 'Night...' started abruptly, this movie throws you right into the maelstrom. It may take multiple viewings to pick up on all the information thrown at you as the camera cuts between a frenzied newscast trying to keep people informed about the rising zombies(despite the decade between the movies, this one may as well take place concurrently with Night) and a swat team raiding a tenement building whose occupants aren't quite ready for marshal law.

The movie slows down significantly after this scene, taking it's time getting to that famous mall where the majority of the movie is set. Again the main thrust of this movie is a small group of survivors holed up against a growing zombie horde. The difference here is that the survivors aren't hoping for rescue, but are in fact escaping civilization as the zombies begin to outnumber the living. All zombie movies have the not-so-subtle implication that the zombies are us, that people as a whole are mindless and ever-hungry consumers, but this movie twists it in a way. While the movie is always fun and over the top and comic-book in style, the subtext is incredibly bleak. In this film the zombies aren't the threat, the humans are. In fact our group of survivors carve out a nice little life for themselves, and even get to work repopulating their shopping mall sanctuary. The zombie threat is eventually banished from their lives, and all they have to fear is boredom as they create the ultimate in luxury living. It isn't until a passing group of human scavengers notices the mall that their paradise is lost. In this movie the zombies may be the ever present threat, but it's humanity that opened the doors for them, making it all too easy for the zombie to replace the living human.

Despite this bleak message, the movie is, as I mentioned, pretty fun. The pinnacle of zombie apocalypse wish fulfillment. We all secretly want an apocalypse, or at least some major event that thins the herd a bit, but in a way where the people we love or respect are left alive. Zombies give us the best possibility, in that as long as we keep our wits about us it really isn't that hard to avoid or destroy the immediate threat to our lives. Plus, who doesn't want to occasionally pop a cap in that mouth breather who, say, talks through a movie on his cellphone. As you can see, zombies offer the best of all possible ends to our way of life.

That isn't necessarily the message of Romero's next, and for awhile considered his last, zombie film, Day of the Dead. For awhile I only saw Day of the Dead as a disappointing case of 'what if?' What if Romero had been able to film this movie as he originally scripted it? What if budget were no problem and all those action set-pieces were up there on film? I no longer think that would be a very good idea. Some directors do their best work with limitations in place, and I think George Romero is one of those directors. My enjoyment of his films, with the exception of Dawn of the Dead, generally seems to go down the higher his budget goes.

Day of the Dead has the weakest story of the series, and a cast of thoroughly unlikable characters played by mostly mediocre actors. After a characteristically strong opening scene, featuring a horde of zombies shuffling through a decimated Florida city, the movie moves to a series of claustrophobic bunkers where a dwindling group of survivors work for the military to find a possible cure. The movie never picks up after that opening until the climax, and the bulk of the movie is watching unlikable, unwashed people yell and bicker amongst themselves. Without much story to hang the movie on, Romero throws out the cleverness of his exposition from the previous films and merely has the characters explain whats going on in the world around them. Also, the mistake of too much information is made here, as Romero attempts to explain why and how the zombies have begun roaming the Earth. Explanations are rarely interesting to me, not because I like mystery(although I do), but because the reasons for events are rarely good enough. Such is the case here, and he demystifies and humanizes the zombies a bit too much. Aside from a few scary scenes in a zombie corral, makeup and gore effects from Tom Savini that remain peerless to this day, and Bub, the movie falls flat.

In the 80s, Night of the Living Dead co-creator John Russo, who had fallen out with George Romero, decided to make his own sequels. Luckily for us film goers, first time director Dan O'Bannon got involved. O'Bannon, who had written Alien and other sci-fi/horror films, decided, wisely, that Romero had already done an excellent job with sequels, and really didn't want to step on his toes. And so we got this wild mix of comedy, gore and action that is both a sequel to, and a loving parody of George Romero's films, as well as a good standalone movie. The movie is funny throughout, but also scary as hell at times. The teeming hordes of zombies running(and wanting to eat brains, this time) after our heroes is every bit as scary as anything in the original movies, and the two characters who slowly become zombies, although used for comedic effect, are quite disturbing. Part 2 was majorly disappointing, being mainly a remake of part 1 with diminishing returns, but part 3 was actually pretty good. And is it wrong of me to say that the zombie girl gets progressively hotter the more zombified she becomes? Probably. But true. Just look at her!

Night of the Living Dead spawned, as you can see, a bunch of sequels and COUNTLESS imitations, some good, some bad, but many profitable. Night made a lot of people a lot of money, but unfortunately George Romero was not one of them. In an attempt to at last make money off this series, he enlisted Tom Savini to direct a remake of the original Night in 1990. It's an impressive film debut from Mr. Savini(who previously had directed Tales from the Darkside episodes), keeping most of the beats from the original, although the movie is missing most of the political undertones that Romero usually litters his films with. Mainly it's a showcase for Savini's always impressive effects, but beyond that it's a pretty tight and suspenseful horror film. More forgettable than the original, but in no way a bad movie. Unfortunately Romero's timing was off. A decade later and he may have actually made a fair amount of money on this deal, but as it was the zombie fad had died out.

Check back with me tomorrow as I continue about zombies for awhile and go over some notable, non-Romero related films.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bits and Pieces

I'm short on time today, but what else is new. My time restrictions are a little tighter today, so I'm going to do a quick rundown of some horror-themed reading material.

I work in a comic shop, which means that lately most of my reading has been of the 4-color kind. A lot of people tend to look down on that, even if they can appreciate that comics can be intellectually stimulating, it's still seen as a guilty pleasure. Frankly, I'm okay with that, even though I think a lot of comic writers deserve recognition from circles larger than just the comic book 'geeks'. My recommendation is one of those writers.

Anybody who's visited this blog more than once has probably heard me mention Warren Ellis, if not you've probably seen the link to his website on the right side of your screen. He's one of the most prolific writers in comics today, with never less than 4 series going on at the same time. He writes constantly, with varying levels of quality, but when he's good, he's peerless. Well, he's maybe second to Alan Moore, but no one today is at that level. One of the most interesting things about Mr. Ellis' career is his dedication to smaller, more personal projects while still continuing his higher-profile work for larger publishers. One of these books is Fell, a slight experiment in form, with it being much shorter than a normal comic, but without any advertisements, each issue being a self contained story, and all cheaper than just about any other book out there. He's stated that his reason for this book is the sympathy he felt for fans at conventions who wanted him to sign blank pieces of paper, saying they just can't afford to buy comics regularly.

Fell plays right into my interests, with it's incredibly creepy and disturbingly gruesome mysteries, and the fact that it's all self-contained. I've been really interested in condensing information lately, getting out as much information as possible for the least amount of exposition. Fell, despite having only 22 pages to tell an entire story, never overcrowds the panel with dialogue or narration. Warren Ellis has always had respect for the artist, and always gives enough room for the art to convey the emotion. Speaking of the art, Ben Templesmith gained fame in horror circles for 30 Days of Night(probably one of the most overrated comics in recent years, by the way), but his art never really impressed me before now. He's a great artist, but he always struck me as wrong for comics, since his style is so abstract. It's usually too dark and sketchy to make out any action. With Fell, however, he reigns back his normal style and makes it much more linear and clearer to the eye without losing anything of what makes his art unique.

The book only has 6 issues out so far, and since it's one of Warren Ellis' 'personal' projects, it's not very regular, but it's worth getting into. Ironically enough the book has gone through multiple printings, and finding the first couple issues of this 'cheap' comic could be quite pricey.

On the subject of Warren Ellis, I must also recommend the series 'Planetary'. It isn't a horror book by any means, but it should appeal to any horror fan(they go to Monster Island in one issue. Another has a giant Praying Mantis). Now is a GREAT time to get into the series, and I say that because the final issue just came out last week. The reason it's great to get into this series now that it's over is because you can read the entire story in one go, as opposed to the interminable wait we fans had during it's regular run. Although the final issue came out last week, the previous issue came out in 2005.

Now that the series is over, I can't say that it's the greatest comic book currently being published, which rest assured it was during most of it's run. The series starts slowly, and may be off putting to some readers due it's format. The series follows a team of archaeologists who specialize in the bizarre, and these people don't take a very active role in events for the first part of the run. It's weird, the book ending just before, or starting just after, big events take place. Big events happen, but you usually only hear about them for awhile. Once the book picks up though, everything becomes worthwhile, as mysteries unfold so ingeniously that you often don't even realize there's a mystery there until it's solved. The book is really an outlet for Warren Ellis' varied ideas, and a place to play around with every genre imaginable, touching on horror, sci-fi, superheroes, mysticism, 50s style sci-fi, aboriginal legends, and metaphysical philosophies.

It really is an excellent book, and well worth the money spent on a collection of trade paperbacks. So go buy it!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Most Influential Part 2

[Author's Note; So yes, I missed yesterday's post. Both lack of time and an all around lack of energy conspired to make me miss my earlier pledge to post daily on this site. I apologize. I have decided not to make up for it by posting twice today, since that doesn't really help my original goal. I did this not only as a tribute to Halloween, the greatest time of the year, but also to kick start my floundering writing habits. Trying to write to full posts in one day wouldn't help me regain momentum, it would probably just tire me out. Maybe I'll go past my original deadline by a day or two and add it to the end of this project.]

A few posts back I wrote about The Shining as one of the most influential films on my life. This is another. That doesn't mean this film is an outright classic, or even that it's held to a higher standard than others in my collection. What I'm referring to is the effect it had on my life, if it actually added to the collection of personal quirks and tics that make up my personality. In that regard today's film(s) is very influential indeed.

The Blob has always been one of my favorite movie monsters, up there with Godzilla or The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Certainly it doesn't have the sympathetic qualities of most monsters, such as Frankenstein or aforementioned Creature, and it definitely doesn't have the style of, say Dracula, but the Blob has something a bit harder to define that's always captivated me. It's an overall sense of doom and dread that most monsters don't get. Something akin to zombies, although both are usually seen as a bit hokey. The Blob has no mind, no rules by which you might stay alive, and it's unavoidable, inescapable, and damn near indestructible. All it does is slowly devour everything around it, growing exponentially as it does so. It's the type of fear I've always enjoyed most, and it's one of the rare occasions that it's pulled up with some top-notch gooey effects.

The first Blob film I saw was, I'm sorry to say, the 1988 remake. I was ten when it came out, and I don't remember when I actually got to see it, but it was probably on cable, and most likely a couple years after it's theatrical release. Before that I had long been interested in the Blob due to the countless books about 50s sci-fi movies I would check out from the library, mainly for their pictures. The original film is a good, fun time, and completely indicative of what was going on in popular culture at the time. Movies, music and other forms of entertainment were being marketed towards kids in much higher volume than in any other time in the 20th century, and The Blob exemplifies this by making the kids the heroes, and the parents just don't understand the threat until it's almost too late. I really can't think of much to say about this film that hasn't already been said, so I don't think I'll try. It should be noted, however, that the theme song kicks ass, and everyone in Alaska should be VERY worried about global warming releasing the Blob from it's prison.

Jack H. Harris tried to get a sequel off the ground, but was unable to until the 70s, when he got the assistance of, of all people, Larry Hagman. Larry Hagman directed the film, and to call it a good film would be misleading, although it certainly isn't without it's enjoyment factor. I think it's a good film, but I realize I'm more than a little biased. The film isn't scary, but I don't think it's trying to be. It's also not funny, at least, not in the way I'm sure the filmmakers intended. To give an example, Dick Van Patten's comedic relief character did nothing but give my girlfriend the heebie jeebies whenever he showed up.

The plot concerns a stereotypical African American man-slovenly, with a jive-talking growl and bickering with his wife as he settles into his easy chair to eat and watch TV-who brings home a frozen piece of the Blob and stores it in his freezer, next to the steaks. There's no explanation for this, no attempt to explain why this man would have a piece of the Blob, or why he thought putting it in his freezer was a good idea. The film is ALMOST a parody of the original Blob, but it mainly comes off as a parody of itself, and although it may not have many of the hallmarks of a good film, it's nevertheless enjoyable and goofy and great for a gathering of friends.

The 1998 remake, on the other hand, is everything that Beware!... was not. Capitalizing quite well on the inherent terror of the Blob, this time casting the titular monster as a mutated government experiment gone wrong and loose in a small Midwestern town. It's definitely an 80s film, although that mainly surfaces in the styles and lingo the kids use. In this film the kids are again cast as the heroes, and the adults do everything they can to not listen. The effects used for the Blob in this one are never less than disgusting, in particular the death scenes that show the blob slowly devouring people layer by layer. First the skin, then muscles, then bone. I know it's not fashionable to like remakes, but this one is actually quite good. One of the better mainstream horror movies of the late 80s, with an always appreciated appearance by David Lynch regular Jack Nance.

This movie had two effects on me. One; when I clean out my garbage disposal it never crosses my mind that it might turn on accidentally, but I'm always a bit worried the blob might be down there. And second: if you ever watch a movie in the theatre with me, and you pay close enough attention, you'll see me look up to the ceiling just to make sure the blob isn't about to pick me out of my seat.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Weirdsville, USA

One of the most well-remembered shows from my youth is Eerie, Indiana. The show ran from 1991-1992 as I was entering my teens, and it fed my appetite for the bizarre and supernatural at a time where I was still a bit too squeamish for most horror films. It's available on DVD now in a complete collection, sadly missing is any form of extras, but for a show this cool having it on DVD is worth it alone. Joe Dante was a creative consultant, and frequent episode director, on the show, which featured other fine directors such as Bob Balaban(Parents) and Tim Hunter(The Rivers Edge). If the talent lineup is any indication to you, this family show was mature in a way that may surprise a lot of modern audiences. It was creepy-fun in a way that most Joe Dante projects are, but it was still surprising to me as to how dark some of these episodes became.

The show was a lot like a kids version of the X-Files(but before there was an X-Files). The two heroes, Marshal and Simon, are the only people in the town of Eerie Indiana who realize that it's the center of weirdness for the whole world, and each episode showcases another adventure they have in trying to gather evidence to show the world. Most often they don't try to prove anything to anyone, and instead merely catalog the evidence in their cluttered attic. The difference between this and other shows of the supernatural is that the show often doesn't try to explain the weirdness, or sometimes even resolve it. Often it just shows that the world is a strange place, and it's always going to be that way. It's a great message for kids that today would have to be wildly toned down from it's original dark roots.

One episode in particular has Marshal(our hero) vying with his best friend for the affections of the new girl in school, who also happens to have a heart condition and moved to Eerie so she could hopefully get a transplant(Eerie, Indiana is the best place to be if you need an organ quick). In the midst of the two friends showing off for the girl, Marshal's friend is hit by a car and dies, his heart ending up inside the new girl. To further complicate matters, every time Marshal goes to kiss his new love, she has what can only be described as a mild heart attack. To cap it off, there's an ending shot that may either be a throwaway joke or an implication that the girl dies in the end. That's probably off-putting to a lot of adults who never watched the show, but it really isn't that bad.

We have a tendency to look back on these stories of our youth and become shocked at how upsetting they are, but we all forget what it was like as a kid. Terry Gilliam has a great quote, which I'm going to boil down to it's essence here, that 'kids are the smartest audience'. Basically what we see as dark and scary kids see as a great adventure. We really underestimate what kids can process, and as a result end up homogenizing their entertainment. And that's a shame, because as a parent I'd really like for my daughter to have something like this, and it just doesn't exist anymore. Sure, she can watch my DVDs, but really, each generation should have it's own things, nostalgia isn't THAT healthy, especially when passed down the line.

Other episodes were often less dark, but never less weird, ranging from families keeping their children in large Tupperware containers so they never age, dogs plotting to overthrow their human captors, a vast underground storage area for every lost item in the US, and a sentient tornado that benevolently visits the town every year, avoiding doing any damage as long as the townspeople throw a festival. The highlight, and most surprising thing about the show, was a 4th wall shattering episode towards the end of the series that is more clever and unique than most episodic television, kids show or not. For this episode alone, which I will not spoil here, it's worth the price of the box set.

As far as complaints go, my only one is that the series ended too soon. That's a common complaint when something you like isn't around anymore, but in this case it's doubly true. The show was cancelled quickly into it's second season, leaving the back story of Dash X, the white-haired, amnesiac, sometime-friend sometime-nemesis of our heroes woefully incomplete. It's obvious the producers had an overarching story in mind, but with only 5 episodes the only hint we get is that it may involve an elderly alien who was stranded on earth for over a century. Other than that, though, the show was just as good as I remembered it.

I don't think it's just nostalgia tinting my vision. I think the show really is that good. Or at least that interesting, and definitely something that wouldn't be on the air today, at least not in this fashion. Just look at the late 90s remake for the Fox Kids block, which was watered down past the point of blandness. It really is a shame, because the world needs something like this today, fun and creepy and imagination-inspiring. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Halloween Hootenanny!

It's always been a marvel to me how under appreciated surf music is. Oh sure it saw a minor resurgence in popularity in the mid-90s thanks to Quentin Tarantino, but to most people it's been a primarily unknown genre. Mention you like surf music to about 70% of the population, and be prepared to follow that up with 'you know, like that song from Pulp Fiction'. This response is even more surprising once you realize how many of these people really like surf once they hear it. And still it's an under appreciated genre. No one starts playing surf tunes to become a big rock star. Which is a shame, because despite the often simplistic song structures, it takes a lot of skill to play that music. Before I finally saw pictures of him, I imagined Dick Dale with an arm like a fiddler crab, he played so fast. And so, today I hope my post will have a twofold benefit; that I tell you about some great, horror themed music, but also that I turn you on to some really rockin' music. Probably the greatest form of music in the world.

I should mention I'm musically uneducated. It's like that old saying, 'I know what I like'. That may seem a bit lowbrow, but truly, I consider myself someone with pretty good musical taste, but I have no idea about the technical side of the art. Don't expect a lot on that.

There's a pretty big sub genre of surf music that seems as much informed by the old Universal monsters as they are by Dick Dale or The Ventures. I don't know what it is about horror or sci-fi that appeals to so many surf musicians, but damned if it doesn't fit. It probably has something to do with how geeky a lot of these artists are, and indicative of their lack of interest in widespread fame. Not to say they wouldn't like fame, it's just they all probably realize there's better paths to follow to get there. You try naming a surf band beyond the ones I've mentioned or the Beach Boys. And no, Rik, I'm not talking to you. So below are a few bands that would make some great, fun and spooky background music for whatever your celebration plans this Halloween.

My favorite surf band-Man... or Astroman?- may not technically be spooky or horror themed, but so steeped are they in late-night matinee culture that they deserve to be on this list. The basic back story for the band is that they are a group of aliens that have crash-landed on Earth and are using the cover of being in a band to disguise their true reasons for travelling around the world, which is to recover the pieces of their spacecraft. Now, if that sounds a little off putting in it's weirdness, don't worry, this isn't a band like Gwar, where they dress up and never let go of the image. In fact the only time this really comes into play, outside of the CD liner notes, is in their live shows where they call the audience members 'earthlings'.

To give you an accurate idea of what kind of band this is, they commonly perform the MST3K theme song live, and nearly every song contains samples from 50's sci-fi movies. This band is best described as nerd-rock, right up there with They Might Be Giants, with songs like U-Uranus(all about the planet, of course), and the entire album EEVIAC is basically a reference to ENIAC, the first large scale digital computer. Song titles can be equally as nerdy, such as 'Multi-Variational Stimuli Of Sub-Turgid Foci Covering Cross Evaluative Techniques'. This band truly rocks, and belongs in any true music lovers collection. A good place to start is Experiment Zero, a full length album containing some of their best, most consistent work. Move on to Deluxe Men In Space, which is a short album of really only 4 songs, but those are 4 of the best instrumentals you're likely to hear in a long while. Listen to it and just TRY and sit still. For a better look at their sci-fi side, check out Destroy all Astromen. Actually, check out anything pre-EEVIAC, because after that they become a bit more experimental and stop writing actual songs so much, instead messing around with weird frequencies and a lot of white noise.
Essential Track: Maximum Radiation Level; Deluxe Men In Space

Rob Zombies record label, Zombie A Go-Go, put out a small string of excellent horror-themed surf, including a couple of quite good anthologies, and two artists of note; The Bomboras and The Ghastly Ones. The Ghastly Ones only released one album, A Haunting We Will Go Go, and it was pretty damn fun. The entire album played out as a soundtrack to a really neat cross between Scooby Doo, Mexican Luchadore films, and mad scientist monster mashes. Apart from that, though, the album suffered from generic, although competent and enjoyable , tunes. The Bomboras, however, have released a relatively large catalog, and everything I've been exposed to has been incredible. The standout is Head Shrinking Fun, which comes in a package mimicking old Milton Bradley board games, and nonstop driving surf music. They slow down a bit with their collection of singles, appropriately called Swingin' Singles, which really does evoke a more laid back, swanky, kinda Playboy At Night vibe.

Essential Track: Land of the One Percenters; Head Shrinking Fun

Despite their name(taken from the60's film Satan's Sadists), to my knowledge Satan's Pilgrims only ever did on album of entirely spooky material, and although it isn't really as fast paced as the previous bands, it is probably the perfect soundtrack to your party. Peppy enough to be entertaining and noticeable, but low-key enough to to not intrude on whatever else your doing, with lots of nice, creaky sound effects. Satan's Pilgrims are probably most closely related to The Ventures, with clear concise picking taking the place of lightning quick finger work.
Essential Track: Ran-goon; Creature Feature

Deadbolt may come close to living up to their self-imposed nickname of Scariest Band In The World, but their obvious sense of humor might just hold them back a bit. The songs are funny, but VERY blue, and done with a completely straight face. To really enjoy this band you should make sure you wont be offended by necrophilia, clown sex, or brutal violence. They aren't your typical surf, but rockabilly doesn't describe them either. Since the music is so similar in each track, you're supposed to pay attention to the lyrics, which are mainly about voodoo and the troubles caused by it. In many respects they owe more to the Cramps than any actual surf band. It's a grimy soundscape that Deadbolt describes, and just about everything they've done can be seen as describing one world, and that world sure wouldn't be fun to live in, but great to listen to.
Essential Track: Jimmies Grave; Zulu Death Mask

Well... I'm running out of time today, but this was fun, so I might just have to continue this later. Keep your eyes peeled for my track list of the greatest Halloween CD never sold in stores. Hope you enjoy these songs, and hope they turn you on to some new artists.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Never Sleep Again

Recently I had opportunity to watch all seven Nightmare On Elm Street movies. Not in one big marathon, as I would have liked, but over the course of a couple of weeks during those scant evenings that both me and my girlfriend Amber were home together. Much in the same way we're working through the Friday the 13th series currently. We're doing this because Amber has somehow gone her entire life without seeing a single one of these movies. Halloween, either. That one's next. Don't ask me how someone can grow up in America and not see these films, and don't ask me how I managed to find that one person, but that's the way it worked out. Let me rephrase that a bit... she had seen Jason Goes to Hell and Freddy Versus Jason with me in the theatre, but neither of them REALLY count, despite how goofily enjoyable they might be.

I'd like to be one of those people who says he was a fan from the beginning, but that clearly wouldn't be true. For one thing I was only 6 when the first movie came out, not quite the targeted demographic. For another I didn't actually discover my love for horror movies until well into Jr. High. The first Nightmare film I saw was part 4 on cable TV. I was still at the age where I watched horror movies through clenched eyes, and truthfully I only watched it because my friend(at whose house I was spending the night) insisted that we watch it. To tell you the truth I was a bit surprised at how unscary it was. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did, but none of it scared me. It didn't even have the requisite 'boo' moment for me(that moment where you jump and spill your drink due only to a loud noise and quick movement). Still, the movie didn't really open the world of horror for me, and it was several years before I went back and watched the first movie.

That one, by the way, did scare me. Quite a bit, actually. I didn't fear going to sleep, because I've always been fairly good at disassociating myself from what scares me in a movie, but I had more than a few moments where my intestines seemed to drop a few degrees in temperature. The movie still has that effect on me, at a few key scenes(most notably Nancy's dream in which she sees her dead friend in the school hallway... something about that image puts me on edge). It's also a revelation, if you've only seen the later Nightmare movies, how disgusting Freddy is. In the last half of the series he became a twisted but somehow likable court jester, killing people in kinda jokey ways. In the first movie he jokes a lot, but the jokes aren't so much funny as really really gross. The only complaint I have with the movie is the tacked on ending, obviously forced into the film to leave it open for sequels, but making it completely unclear what was going on. Is the ending a dream? Has Freddy's power transferred into reality? If it's a dream, who's point of view is it? The mom? Nancy? Her friends? All of them? Aside from those complaints, it's also just really goofy. However, if the movie had stopped 5 minutes earlier it would have been damn near perfect.

Sidebar: when I say a movie is perfect, I don't always mean it's technically or artistically flawless. I'm able to forgive a LOT when it comes to films that I believe are genuinely trying, or are merely being kept back by the styles of the day.

Of course, the less said about part 2 the better. After watching the film Amber could only turn to me and say 'when you said this movie was gay, I thought you meant stupid'. Freddy's Revenge has an odd and disturbing homo-erotic bent to it, and before you read any homophobic meaning into that, just tell me you enjoyed watching the gym teacher stripped naked and tied to the wall getting whipped on his ass to death by wet towels. Of course, the movie is plenty stupid, too. Bringing Freddy into the real world is always a mistake, especially at a rockin' pool party. The movie was hideously campy. And not in a good way like the 1960's Batman movie.

Part 3 brought the series back on track, most likely due to the return of Wes Craven on script duties. It's actually an even race with part one in terms of how much I enjoy it. The deaths have of course become more elaborate without becoming quite as silly as they do in part 4 and beyond. My favorite would have to be the Freddy as puppeteer death, as he uses one of the kids like a marionette, using his tendons as strings. Gleefully disgusting. With the exception of some pretty cheesy 80's styles(specifically Taryn's dream self-image), and some spotty dialogue, the movie nicely expands on and advances the Nightmare mythology. Extra points for ignoring the events of part 2.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 comprise an attempt at a linked storyline, whereas the rest of the movie, even if making reference to past events, are more standalone. Part 4 is still pretty enjoyable, but this really marks the downward slide of the series, with Freddy becoming more of a punchline, and the deaths becoming sillier and sillier. Anyone remember the weightlifter turning into a cockroach? This movie, and to a greater extent number 6, is the reason why people seem to forget how absolutely horrible Freddy Krueger is. It's easy to forget, as you see Freddy hamming it up, eating 'soul pizza', is that he molested children and killed them in horribly torturous ways before he died, and then he started killing kids in their dreams. It's not exactly the basis for crass comedy. Or maybe it is and I'm just way off on this.

Those quibbles aside, this is very much an action movie with some surrealistic, nightmarish touches, and it manages to be fairly enjoyable. That's actually saying a lot, since it's a Renny Harlin film, and I usually can't stand anything he does. He's up there on my list with Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, only moderately less vomit inducing. So, as I say, a fun but not particularly scary movie. The effects are top notch, for the most part, culminating in the best death scene Freddy's had yet. The effects used to show all of the souls clawing their way out of his body are truly nightmarish, and probably deserved a fittingly scary movie.

Part 5 is probably my second least favorite film, and I don't have much to say about it. It's a pretty weak premise, with Freddy using Alice's unborn child to return to our world. It's not a very well defined back story, since that still doesn't explain how Freddy returns in the first place, and it muddies the mythology that we've already had established for us. Just because Alice's baby is dreaming, how does that mean that Freddy can kill OTHER people? It has some promisingly gothic touches in the beginning, and you may think your in for a classier level of film making than your used to for the series, but it isn't consistent, and it resorts to basic slasher film style for most of the movie. I guess my main complaint is that the movie is just so damned boring.

Part 6 is a bit of a sore topic for many fans, since it really doesn't deliver anything that fans would want from a Nightmare movie, and Freddy isn't just making a few quips as he kills people, he's hamming it up more than Porky Pig(sorry, I need to apologize for that line, I spent 5 minutes debating whether or not to use it). This movie is pure comedy, and quite a bit less gory than other films. I like the basic concept, with the last child in Springwood being let out into the rest of the world to find more children for Freddy to kill. It has some interestingly bizarre flourishes, admittedly stolen from Twin Peaks, and some funny cameos, most notably by Johnny Depp, but the movie really is shite. But, sue me, I like it. It's campy and funny, but if you don't let yourself get offended by how much they seem to want to tear down the Freddy mythology, it's an enjoyable and forgettable film.

And that brings us to part 7, Wes Craven's New Nightmare. I don't think this one did as well as New Line had hoped, and they must have had high hopes indeed. Their flagship franchise, returned to the man who had started it all and had a role in the 2 most profitable entries in the series. I know plenty of people who don't care for this one, but I call them idiots. The only thing keeping this one from being my favorite is that part 1 got to me earlier, and I'll always give the edge to whoever did it first.

Several years before Adaptation, and even his own Scream series, Wes Craven tried his hand at postmodernism in what was widely considered to be a sleazy slasher series. Many of the important figures from the previous Nightmare movies return, playing themselves this time, as the spirit of Freddy begins to haunt them in the real world. What I like about this one, aside from the inventive concept, is how reverent Wes Craven is of the series. You'd probably assume he would be, since he created it, but this is a man who saw some pretty crappy things done to a movie that he originally intended as a single movie, very serious story. Instead Mr. Craven calls upon our pop culture knowledge of EVERY Nightmare movie, and hits all the right beats to bring out the goosebumps in anyone who had seen at least one of them.
The main complaint is that Freddy isn't technically in this one too much, but that actually adds to the impact. Instead of the joking prancing madman, this Freddy is a cold and disgusting killer, doing nothing other than slashing the people he wants to kill in order to cross over completely to our world, and scaring the hell out of them while doing it, often with imagery from the previous films. But, by the time Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon find themselves acting out their characters from the first film, and Heather turns around to find her LA home has become the house on Elm Street while that iconic Freddy theme starts playing, I'd like to see you try and find one fan who didn't get goosebumps.
I suppose I should make quick mention of Freddy Vs. Jason here, even though I don't consider it at all a part of the mythology. What can I say, really. I liked it, because it was exactly what it advertised itself as. Two horror icons beating the crap out of each other and killing a bunch of frequently naked teenagers. It wasn't as good as most of the Freddy movies, but it was better than nearly every Jason movie. Of course, I could ony think how cool it would be if a director TRULY gifted at dreamlike imagery were given one of these movies. Imagine a Freddy film as seen by Terry Gilliam, or David Lynch!

So, in descending order, my favorite films in the series are:
Part 1, part 7, part 3, part 4, part 6, part 5, and I'd rather not mention part 2.

In the end, though, my favorites mean nothing, you can't watch one without watching the rest.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Most Influential

Sometimes the criteria I use to judge a great horror movie isn't just it's inherent quality, but how much it effects my day to day life. There are a small handful of horror movies that didn't just define how I watched movies, but actually informed the way I live my life. Taking that in consideration, probably one of the most, if not THE most, important horror film in my life would have to be Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining.

A lot of purists, and Stephen King, hate what Kubrick did with the movie, arguing that it changes just about everything from the book, but then I'd like to enter into evidence the completely crappy remake that Stephen King went back and did in the 90s. I forced myself to sit through it, and as a result put Mr. King on my personal shitlist for the better part of a decade. I was that offended by the movie.

Now... I have to make an admission here. A statement so blasphemous that my 'cool film buff' status may be revoked by the cultural mafia. I've never quite understood the appeal of Stanley Kubrick. There, I've said it. A great weight has been lifted. Actually, let me backtrack a little. I do understand the appeal of Stanley Kubrick, I've just never been as big a fan as most people think I should be. I like the majority of his movies, and a couple I do agree are classics. The problem is that he's always seemed so damn cold. His movies are so technically perfect, and incredibly sterile. That's opposed to other technically proficient masters like Hitchcock, or Akira Kurosawa, both of whom were able to inject warmth into their perfection. Kubrick's warmest movie, arguably, is 2001 A Space Odyssey, and that's only because the villain is a robot and we automatically associate with the human protagonist.

The Shining, however, has always been a favorite. One of the greatest movie going experiences of my life was seeing this film in a theatre during a Halloween retrospective. I'd seen it countless times on video, but until I saw those sweeping hallway shots on a big screen I had never truly experienced the movie. It's one of those rare movies that still has the power to scare the bejeesus out of me. Admittedly by now it's more a remembered fear, but I'm not going to admit how old I was before I could watch the scene where Jack visits room 237 with unclenched eyes.

And that, to bring this full circle, is the lifelong change this movie wrought on my life. I still cannot use a restroom in which the shower curtain is closed. Those of you who have seen the movie will surely understand.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Almost Done Now

Today I wrap up my thread on Asian horror, and I'm gonna keep this short today. No intros or segues, lets just get right into it.

The entertainment form that I've always been the most hesitant to share with my love of with people is anime. People tend to assume the worst when you tell them you like anime, because mainly the popular image of anime is either disgustingly mind-numbing stuff like Dragonball or Pokemon, or disgustingly perverse pseudo-pornography. A lot of people are completely unaware of the greater heights the genre reaches. I read an article sometime back that said animated entertainment outnumbers live action entertainment in Japan, a fact I'm willing to believe, based on what I've seen. If that's true, it stands to reason there's a lot of good stuff out there, but it also stands to reason there's a lot of crap. Don't hold it against the Japanese that the crap is what makes it over here. Now my particular taste for anime has diminished quite a bit over the past few years, to the point that it really does need to be something special for me to really care. Boogiepop Phantom, however silly it's name, is one of the special anime series.

In the near future Tokyo(actually, I'm only assuming it's near-future, the time line is never really explained), the sky is obscured by an odd form of Aurora Borealis, and the people are still haunted by a serial killer who was stalking the city 5 years earlier. There's also a bunch of mentions of some weird, supernatural event at the same time that seems to have created a lot of weird phenomenon. We never actually see this event, or get a full explanation, since each episode only gives us a piece of the puzzle. Through the 13 episodes we meet a collection of people struggling with some pretty bizarre supernatural problems. One high school student begins seeing spiders attached to people's hearts, and begins eating them to ease the negative emotions of those afflicted. Almost every episode is a complete story focusing on one person, and they're all connected. You'll see in one episode a character walk by a commotion on the street, and then 2 episodes later see the story leading to that commotion. The series really does require that you pay close attention, but it's also quite chilling if you can last.

If your still confused at the end of the anime series(and if you aren't you weren't really watching), then there's hope. A live action movie, Boogiepop and Friends, was released which fills in many of the blanks concerning that mysterious event from 5 years earlier. I say 'many' of the blanks, because the movie follows the same pattern of interconnected stories, telling a much larger epic through the point of view of people who really have nothing to do with it at all. The problem there is that you end up watching some slow moving high school drama with quick brushes with the supernatural. Still, the movie is well worth it if you liked the TV series.

Uzumaki(spiral) is a film based on comic book horror creator Junji Ito, who's really a big name when it comes to these things. The movie doesn't quite live up to either the atmosphere or the gore of Mr. It's comics, and it really isn't the greatest movie among my recommendations, but it is an odd little film that still holds a special place in my heart. It has a pretty strange setup- a town becoming obsessed with spirals- but ends up as kind of a Japanese, Lovecraftian story, with madness effecting the townspeople until it eventually changes many of them physically. An interesting little film, and well worth checking out.

By the same director, and even more worth your time(although unfortunately not readily available in America), is the short TV movie Long Dream. This is a genuinely spooky little short with all the subtlety that Uzumaki was lacking. Set entirely in a psychiatric hospital(one of those arty film hospitals with unhealthy green lighting and long shadows), the films follows a doctor as he tries to figure out how to treat a young man who complains of longer and longer dreams. He sleeps for 8 hours in the real world, but in his dreams he lives entire lifetimes, and the durations are getting longer. Eventually he can't remember people from his daily life because his dreams last hundreds of years and by the time he wakes up he's forgotten almost everything. The doctors are further stumped when he begins to change physically as well as mentally. This one I would suggest you try and hunt down. Like I said it isn't easily available in the US, but you can usually find a copy or two on Amazon for fairly cheap.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Agitator; the director of peace and happiness

Since yesterday the bulk of my post concerned an overview of Japanese cinema(I said Asia, but realized later that most of my comments were centered on Japanese films), but didn't have much in the way of recommendations, I thought today I'd go through a quick list of some films that are worth checking out beyond The Ring(or Ringu, but the title is meant to be The Ring, so I wont be a stickler on that one). It should be said, since I made a bunch of sweeping general statements yesterday, that I am in now way an expert of Japanese culture. I've just seen a bunch of movies. And nothing I'm saying is meant to offend, in case I am way off the mark, these are just the observations I've made through the years of absorbing Japanese books, movies and music.

The Ring can take a lot of credit, if not for inventing the 'haunted technology' genre, but for giving Asian cinema in general a huge boost in the eyes of the world market. It's spawned a slew of sequels and foreign language remakes(the American version being only one of several), and opened the floodgates for the currently waning remakes of Asian films(the Grudge, Pulse, Dark Water). Many of the sequels and remakes weren't that good, but a few other movies about spooky electronic gadgets have lived up to, or maybe even surpassed the Ring. One of the better films would have to be One Missed Call, by the certifiably insane Miike Takashi. It suffers from the curse of familiarity, since it has so many aspects that appear in every Japanese horror movie. Miike is never known for subtlety, but this film is MUCH more subdued than almost every other film he's ever made(and he's made quite a few). That said, it's also much more sensational than the rather dreary Ringu or Dark Water. There's one death, in a TV studio, on live broadcast, that will probably make your jaw drop.

Also by Miike, and much more frightening a film, is Audition. The film follows a middle aged TV producer widow, Shigeharu, who is urged by his teen aged son and coworkers to find a new woman. The problem is, our hero is completely unaware of how a middle aged Japanese businessman finds a woman. A coworker comes up with the monumentally sleazy idea of holding a series of auditions for a fake television movie, calling for women that fit the basic profile of what he's looking for. That alone sounds pretty creepy, but Shigeharu is so sincere that you're willing to forgive him.

Eventually Shigeharu finds a woman who attracts him, a ghostly, silent woman by the name of Asami who seems to be utterly perfect. It's telling about Japanese culture(or just men in general, you decide) that the perfect woman is someone so utterly submissive and unresponsive. Still, the romance begins, and despite the perfection at the outset, things start to go sour when we learn what Asami's secrets are. Beyond that I'm not really willing to give much away, because this film was such a pleasant, masochistic surprise when I watched it with very little idea of what to expect. I'd urge you to not watch ANY trailers, as all the ones I've seen give away one of the best shocks in the history of horror cinema. Suffice to say, you may become bored after nothing much happens in the first hour, but make sure you aren't eating spaghetti(as I was) during the last half hour.

I guess a word about Miike is in order. His first work as a director was in 1991, when he started out working in television. In 15 short years he's become one of the most prolific directors ever to come from Japan, and he'd probably have a pretty high standing in western circles as well, with his 70th film currently filming. As I said he's never very subtle, and his movies are never easy to predict. Sometimes this works against the film, since he seems eager to throw whatever silly idea comes to him on screen, but sometimes it's incredibly effective. He seems to be a filmmaker with no filter. I don't mean that in a 'he says what he believes, he's totally real, man!' way. I mean that he seriously doesn't seem to filter out any idea that comes to him, and just throws it all on screen. This gives even his more generic action work a dreamlike and often horrific quality, since his ideas seem to skew towards torture, violence, and gallons upon gallons of blood. Just look towards Ichi the Killer, which has to be the single bloodiest movie I've seen.

Another film worth checking out is Gozu. Although not a horror film, and maybe not even one of my favorites, this film got under my skin like few others, so that for weeks after I kept returning to it and trying to figure out it's mysteries. A basic plot rundown; it involves a young Yakuza ordered to kill his friend and mentor and then dump the body. The killing goes OK(although not how you'd expect), but on his way through a small town the body goes missing, and our young hero must find the body.But this is one of those towns that seem to exist only in David Lynch films, where everyone is bizarre beyond belief, and events happen with a sudden yet dreamlike quality. Some characters; a transvestite waiter, an inn-keeper who sells breast milk and dreams, a mythical minotaur, a man who collects the skins of killed yakuzas(for their tattoos), and a yakuza boss who finds inventive and disgusting uses for large wooden ladles. Seriously. Not for kids.

The movie, like I said, isn't a horror, and it probably means absolutely nothing in the end, but like I said it stuck with me. To me horror isn't about monsters or ghosts, but about what you can't understand, what you can't get your brain around. In that case, this movie is one of the most terrifying you'll ever see. Except it isn't REALLY scary, and quite funny.

Well... I didn't quite mean to, but this entire post turned out to be centered on Miike Takashi. That means my Asian movie thread will continue tomorrow, with a more traditional list of recommendations and reviews. Seeya then.

A quick list of more Miike:

Happiness of the Katakuris; a joyous musical about an accidentally murderous family trying to open a bed and breakfast.
Zebraman; an incredibly fun movie about a loser middle school teacher in the near future who finds himself gaining the powers of Zebraman, the main character from a 1970's Pwer Rangers-esque TV show.
The Great Yokai War: A remake, of sorts, and Miike's attempt at rubber suited monsters.
Full Metal Yakuza: A violent and silly Robocop rip-off, with gigantic mechanized phallus'.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Sun Isn't Always Rising

The big boom for Asian horror may be past us, with the diminishing returns for American remakes, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a great many interesting and frightening films to choose from. There are enough, in my opinion, that my next couple of posts will most likely be dedicated to Asian horror cinema. First, though, I wanted to give a little primer to the uninitiated. Most likely you've seen the Grudge, or the Ring, either in it's American form or it's original Japanese, or both. But if you haven't, there are a few things that will be off putting to most western viewers.

First off, you should forget most of the preconceptions you have as a westerner about horror films. I say this because, at heart, our horror films have a very strong Judea-christian, catholic core. The horny co-eds who have premarital sex and use drugs are killed, while the virginal babysitter is left physically unharmed after her descent into figurative hell. This isn't the case in most eastern horror films, since Christianity doesn't have as strong a foothold. What they do have, is Buddhism, and while you don't need to be an expert on the teachings of Buddhism, it is helpful to know one thing. In Shinto Buddhism hate-and other negative emotions- are considered contagious, as an almost physical ailment. Think of Princess Mononoke, where Ashitaka confronts the boar god who is consumed with rage. The touch of the Boar god scars him, and that scar continues to grow throughout the film. The implication being that eventually this hate and rage would kill Ashitaka. And so you have the more common theme of the horrific events spreading from person to person instead of a singular monster hunting down a specific group, as seen in Ju-on(the Grudge, in America).

Often this idea coincides with another theme, which is the fear of technology. It may sound odd, since so many of our technological advancements come from this part of the world, but it makes sense when you think about it. This is a country that has firsthand experience of the nightmare that technology can bring. And really, science has been at the core of Japanese horror cinema since Godzilla. And so you get many many films dealing with our modern technology run amok, as seen in the Ring movies, One Missed Call, and quite memorably in the two cyberpunk Tetsuo films. Think a mash up of David Cronenberg's fascination with bodily modification, David Lynch's Eraserhead(more in style than actual substance), and some of Clive Barker's more disgusting, darker fantasies.

You should also know that this knowledge won't really prepare you for some of the stranger things in eastern cinema. Japanese films in general seem to have a dreamlike quality, an internal logic that the filmmakers don't seem to think you need to know about. It might just be my inexperience with the culture, maybe if I were a local it would all make perfect sense, but as it is many things will not be explained to you. For my part, I enjoy that more than most horror movies that explain why things are happening to the point of diminishing the creepiness. Still, sometimes a little logic helps. It's also pretty easy to confuse this obtuseness with intelligence, making a film seem more intelligent than it really is.

Pulse, directed by Kyoshi Kurosawa(no relation to Akira, but an excellent director in his own right), is probably one of the best examples of all that I've mentioned thus far. The plot concerns a website that is becoming a cult phenomenon among the younger generation, but it also happens to be a gateway for ghosts to enter the land of the living. Or something like that, it isn't really spelled out for you, but that's the basic gist. The movie is more focused on the melancholic aspect of the dead, since what they're really doing isn't killing people, but infecting them with their loneliness until they eventually fade out of existence. The movie has all of the major Japanese horror tenets, with the curse being passed from person to person, and it all centering around technology, but it doesn't execute any of them the way you'd expect if you've seen a lot of Japanese films. Many people find it boring, but it actually scared me more than any other J-horror film simply because it never did what I expected it to. Plus it didn't have creepy-haired ghost women or pale-faced little children. That's a plus. A warning, though, the movie really does live up to the 'infuriating lack of information' trend I mentioned earlier, with many events kind of vague, but it's still a great movie. I wouldn't shy away from recommending the American version, either, which gets rid of some of the vagueness and melancholy in order to impose it's own invented(but still interesting) back story.

So, check this one out if you have the time, it's readily available on DVD, and tune back in tomorrow when I go over a couple of my other favorite Asian horror films. As for Kyoshi Kurosawa, it isn't really a horror film, but he directed another fairly creepy gem called Cure, which I would urge just about everyone to check out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

You'll Wish It Were Only A Nightmare

It's Friday the 13th, so of course I have to talk about that series a little bit. The problem is, I've never been that big a fan of the Jason movies. Oh sure, I've watched them all at least once(most of them more than that), and I'll admit I enjoy them every time I see them. But it's always a workmanlike enjoyment. Like eating a box of saltines when your excruciatingly hungry. It'll satisfy you, but it's nothing to get too excited about.

In the slasher movie wars, A Nightmare on Elm Street had a sick, surreal fantasy edge to it, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre(original, of course) was as bleakly funny as it was stomache churning in it's insanity, and even the Halloween series started off with a touch of style rarely seen inside the genre. Friday the 13th, however, never had much more than a big scary guy with a machete chasing down frequently naked, buxom co-eds. Not that I mind the frequently naked buxom co-eds, or even the big guy with the machete, but the series rarely goes beyond this formula, and it really isn't enough to sustain my interest for a whopping 10 films.

The first film gets a lot of credit from fans regarding it's supposed twist ending, where you learn the killer isn't really Jason but his mother. This isn't really a twist, since Jason is mentioned as having died in 1958, a year before the killings that closed the camp. We're given no reason at all to suspect Jason until we meet his mother at the end of the film and she spells it out for us. I don't hold it against the filmmakers that this isn't really a twist, but it seems to have fooled a lot of people. Of course the shock ending, which mimics Carrie, shows us a seemingly rotted Jason, mostly unchanged from the time of his death(20 years earlier). This leads to one of the more confusing aspects of the series.

In part one we see Jason is still a child, yet in part 2, which takes place only 3 years later, he's a fully grown man capable of stalking and slashing co-eds on his own. The filmmakers probably intended the scene from the first movie to be a hallucination, since this movie implies Jason never died at all, but was raised in the woods by his distraught mother. But thats another problem, because without a dead Jason his mother has no real reason to seek revenge on camp counsellors. I guess it's stupid to think that a movie of this type should have logic, but some things just bother me.

By the third movie it's obvious the filmmakers aren't really taking the job too seriously, as the teens and supporting characters are played for laughs more and more. Not really good laughs, but it's obvious they were going for humor. Plus it's in 3D, which was most likely it's only real reason for being made. Unfortunately the 3D print never survived to DVD.

For me the series doesn't REALLY pick up until, blasphemy I know, number 9. When New Line took over they added a hint of self awareness that really reinvigorated the franchise. The humor was actually funny, while the gore and killings were also still satisfyingly splatter filled. Number 10 took the film to the place all franchises go when they run out of ideas... space(see also Hellraiser 4, Critters 4, and... Leprechaun 4). I may upset some true fans out there, but robo-Jason was fun, and the movie made me fall out of my seat laughing(in a good way). Plus... who the hell thought, back in 1980, that we'd see a horror movie where the villain burned up on reentry into the atmosphere. And who would have thought that villain would be Jason!

There appears to be a new Jason movie in the works, most likely set before the events in part 10, and I'll probably go see that in the theatres. I'll also probably watch the entire series over again once or twice, but for anyone who HASN'T seen it yet, get lots of beer, and as many friends as you can fit into your living room. This is a series that needs to be seen with a group.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Something Wicked This Way Comes

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a huge horror fan, so you've probably assumed that October is my favorite time of year. You have assumed correctly. Halloween has to be the greatest holiday ever invented, and it certainly holds more excitement, more warm memories than christmas can even get close to. It's even more important now that I have a daughter to whom I can impart all the wonders of this month. Trick or Treating hasn't been this much fun in a decade.

So... to celebrate the greatest month in history, I'm going to try something a little different. 31 days of horror! Every day(excluding weekends, since I don't have reliable access to this site) I will be adding a post that will recommend various horror movies, books, comics, soundtracks, or experiences. And yes, I know that 31 days from now will no longer be October, but if the Simpsons can air the Treehouse of Horror in November, I can keep talking about horror movies until the 11th.

I don't purport to be an expert(at least not a very good one), but I do think I have some knowledge in the area. As such these won't necessarily be reviews, and I won't be ranking anything, they will simply be things that I think everyone should make an effort to check out. I'm also going to make an apology in advance to Rik over at Cinema4Pylon, because I'm sure that more than a few things in the upcoming posts will owe their genesis to him and his far superior blog. I'm not even going to try and imitate his informed(and informative) reviews, but I've learned a bit about formatting by reading his site, and I just feel that an acknowledgment is in order. Plus I think you all should really check his blog out.

So, for now, bookmark this site, and check back often... or at least daily, and I'll do my best to keep on schedule. If you take me up on any recommendations, drop me a line letting me know what you think.

Friday, September 15, 2006

This is Entirely Relevant

So, to show just how plugged into the national consciousness I am, and how I'm right there on the cutting edge, I've decided to be the last person on the planet to have an opinion about the whole Mel Gibson anti-semitic rant.

My opinion: who the hell cares?

Not to be flippant, because lord knows the Jewish community really is the most unfortunate group of people ever to populate this planet, but so what if Mel Gibson dislikes Jews? From what I've seen in his films and personal life, Gibson has never let this become an issue. He's never harrassed anyone, as far as all reports seem to say, nor has he discriminated any individual or group. In fact, the only other reason for him being called anti-semitic was The Passion Of The Christ. But isn't it pretty much assumed, when someone is THAT fervent about his/her own religion, that they think all other faiths will burn in hell? He obviously has his beliefs, and for the most part has kept them to himself, unloading them only on the people who want to listen.

Also, he was falling down drunk, and alcohol is never good for people wishing to keep their mouths shut.

So yeah, maybe Mel Gibson hates Jews, but what do you want to do about that? You can't force people to change the way they feel, the most you can hope for is that they won't try to pass that hate on, and I'd say Mr. Gibson, for all his faults(I really don't want to sound like an apologist, I have no opinion about him one way or the other), has done pretty well at that.

However, if it's true that Mel's been cold-calling Jewish people in the entertainment industry to apologize, thats pretty ballsy, and not the most tactful move in the world.

I guess the big question so many people liked to bring up was; Is Mel Gibson's career over? How will he ever recover? Are you fucking kidding me?! It's Mel Gibson! As long as his movies continue to make money, of COURSE he'll be forgiven! It's Hollywood!

Thursday, August 10, 2006


At the moment I'm getting over a weeklong bout of what I can only assume was the pneumonic plague. I seem to be recovering quite nicely, though, so maybe I'm related to those folks in Eyam, England. Eyam was a village that, during an outbreak in the 1600's quarantined itself for over a year. When people first ventured into the village, expecting a ghost town, they found over half of the population alive. This was during a time when the plague killed up to 95% of all infected. Scientist's have determined a genetic mutation(dubbed Delta 32) was responsible for the immunity, and that roughly 14% of the descendants of that village also have the mutation. In a lucky side effect, those people also seem to be immune to HIV, as multiple lab tests on various blood samples were never able to cause infection.

Earlier this week the Today show had a story about a new danger coming from your cell phone. I watched it, expecting new clinical studies proving a link between cell phones and brain tumors, and instead we were shown a probably redundant story dealing with how the technological gadgets you use everyday are just COVERED in germs, and apparently that's a HUGE problem.

Except it really isn't. Germs are everywhere, we all know this, but we keep getting sensationalistic news stories about the unseen threat around us. First off, germs really aren't the problem, viruses are, and viruses need an organic host to survive. The chances of catching anything REALLY bad from something like a cell phone, keyboard, or even hotel bed are pretty slim.

Consider this: 12 years ago on the Mir space station a Russian astronaut discovered a growth of mold that had been brought from earth. It was growing on one of the windows, and due to the confines and conditions of living in space, the mold had adapted to not eat organic materials, but inorganics such as glass, plastic and silicone. It was also nearly impossible to kill. That was one fo the reasons the aging space station was always falling apart. Can you imagine the repercussions of something like that reaching earth? An unkillable mold that eats plastics and silicone? Our entire society would be in jeopardy, and I don't think that's just hyperbole.

All told, I still think we all need to be a little less germophobic. Everytime I see one of those lysol ads claiming to kill 99.9% of germs, all I can think of is how dangerous that .1% is. Imagine it, thats .1% that remains on your toilet seat, immune to disinfectants. Every future generation stemming from that .1% will also be largely immune to disinfectant. Keep this up and it's gonna come back to bite us in the ass.

That's why so many diseases we once had under control are becoming threats again, that's why antibiotics are failing us, because we rely on them over our own immune systems. We've tried to circumvent the whole 'what does not kill us' idea only to find out it was pretty damn true.

Don't get me wrong, I wash my hands my hands nearly a dozen times a day, but that's because I work retail and am constantly handling money, which is the dirtiest stuff on the planet. But when I get a cold? I don't replace my toothbrush, nor do I take great pains to sanitize the environment around me. I keep clean, make sure I keep my phlegm to myself, but other than that I let nature take it's course. Besides, once your body recovers from any particular virus, your more or less immune to that particular strain. We only get colds and flus so often because they mutate from person to person.

It's like that old star trek episode, where the Enterprise picks up some space hippies on their way to some planetary Eden in the hopes of leaving behind the cold sterile federation(one of the characters actually has an incurable disease caused by the sterile conditions of a germ free life), only to find, once they get there, that paradise is poison to them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Local Interest

Just over a month ago the Alaska inter-tribal council, representing the several hundred different tribes we have in Alaska, along with a similar group in Hawaii, announced it's plans to take the US government before the UN and argue that the purchase of Alaska from the Russians was illegal, since Russia had no legal claim on this land. Effectively this means the tribal council is suing the United States with the goal that Alaska and Hawaii will become sovereign nations under the various indigenous tribes that live there. It was an announcement under-reported over the last month(I saw one small local mention, and nothing in the nationals), but in fact the process is already under way, with the UN Human Rights committee scheduled to hear the case in July. You can read all about it by going here, and here. I have to admit that they're fairly lengthy, and I haven't had an opportunity to read through it all, so if I discover something new, expect an update.

Now, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that every single Alaskan has daydreamed about becoming a sovereign nation at one time or another. We are a land full of independent people with a deep and sometimes frightening distrust and paranoia when it comes to our government, and a predilection towards shooting things. Hell, even I've thought about how great it would be to be our own nation, to have a chance to do things right, but I'm still a bit wary, not only because it's a really bad idea(which I'll get to in a moment), but because it could do a lot of harm even if nothing comes of this.

You see, every city has it's own regional form of racism. Of course, black people have it tough all over, but go to south Florida and you'll find a lot of animosity towards Cubans. In the southwest Mexicans are fairly unpopular, and in many fishing villages you'll find anger towards the Vietnamese or other Asian cultures who are seen as taking fishing jobs away from the locals. Most racism is a mixture of disgust at one thought of as worse off, and fear that the roles could easily be switched. Even more evidence that the division in this country isn't between black and white, but between rich and poor. In Alaska(at least in the larger cities), that regional racism is aimed towards natives. It doesn't matter which tribe, the blanket term 'natives' pretty much conveys what I'm getting at. The news of this event, at least to the few people I informed of it, were shocked, amused, and a little upset at the 'native population' in general.

That's the first problem, and it dawned on me as I watched the small soundbite on TV where a professional looking middle aged woman spoke on TV of the tribal council's plans for what to do if they were to achieve their goals. She assured all listening that natives would not begin pushing non-natives out of the state, or relocating them, but she did leave open the possibility for large scale reclaiming of properties. It occurred to me that the main problem that could occur due to this, as the inter-tribal council goes tilting at windmills(it should not be gathered from my language that I hold any real animosity or anger towards this idea, as much as I disagree I find myself applauding the gesture), is that this may serve, even in defeat, to only increase the perceived rift between natives and non-natives.

My other problem with this is a bit more abstract, and may seem a bit un-PC, but I'll just have to put it bluntly. We, as a society, have got to stop apologizing for the sins of our forefathers. You know what, it sucks that two more technologically advanced civilizations came in and divvied up your homeland and treated you like dirt, that really is awful. But guess what... Every civilization throughout the history of human existence has done the exact same thing. The only way we can make it better doesn't involve turning back the clocks and trying to bend over backwards to atone for past mistakes. In fact, once we can't get past our history, that's when we stop moving forward. The best way that society as a whole can move forward and heal those old wounds is by making sure it never happens again. Once we stop that, well, we've got no point to our entire existence.

But let's imagine that the UN agrees with the inter-tribal council, and the US suddenly begins caring what the UN thinks, and control of Alaska and Hawaii(and, I just discovered, Puerto Rico) is handed back to the indigenous peoples of those lands, what then? Well, goodbye all forms of public assistance. Time to start thinking about trade agreements with the US(and you thought getting your groceries was expensive now), how we're going to go about public assistance and welfare programs, and a whole slew of problems people may not be ready for. Also, do we really want to be a foreign country with large oil reserves that has just recently embarrassed the United States? Think that will turn out well? Ah well, at least we could count on the French to come to our aid, they're all about sticking it to the man.

Of course, this will probably just all blow over, and I'm probably being a bit alarmist about this, but sometimes it's fun to carry ideas through to their worst possible conclusion. At the very least we'll find out this summer. The sessions will be held from the 10th to the 28th of July.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Myspace has been making a lot of headlines lately, and not just for criminal cases involving shady get togethers. No, Myspace is the current hot-site for all hipster internet surfers, undiscovered artists seeking to peddle their wares, and just about anyone interested in telling complete strangers the random mundane details of their lives. By now roughly half the population of the planet has a blog on myspace, creating an instant, imaginary community that includes your closest friends and everyone else they've ever bumped into on a chatroom. In today's onslaught of information, data and entertainment, it's the perfect place to start a grassroots campaign for your own uniqueness. Or so I've heard.

You see, I've so far resisted the urge to migrate to myspace. When these cultural focus points come into existence, it gets to a point where I avoid them out of sheer stubborn-ness. I won't allow myself to join the herd and do whatever everyone else is doing. Yes, I realize that means my life is STILL being dictated by the herd, but you obviously missed the part where I called myself stubborn.

Still, it was brought to my attention earlier this month, in a thought echoing one I've had many times, that in this day and age, when there are more websites to visit than their are people online at any given moment, that all this great work I'm doing here may be in vain. How is word going to get out there to the masses who are suffering in ignorance of my great works? Well, I have not yet found a logical response to that, but in an act of solidarity with my fellow outsiders to the herd of myspace, I've decided to plug a couple of blogs I think everyone reading my blog will enjoy. Maybe this will get them a little bit more recognition, because in both cases I think they might deserve it even more than I do. I know, I know, impossible, right?

So first off, I have to give credit where credit is due to Rick, the maestro of Cinema4Pylon, a wonderful film review blog, and Cinema4CelBloc, an animation blog. Without him, my blog wouldn't even exist. All hate mail can be directed towards his sites. Rick is basically the type of being I want to be when I grow up, which is to say, not very grown up at all. Cinema4Pylon is probably the easiest to get into, although it's about as frequently updated as mine. Cinema4CelBloc is amazingly informative, and exhaustively produced daily(!), and if you have even a passing interest in animation, well worth the read.

The second blog I'll promote today belongs to my Kung Fu brother Eric, over at TrajectoryCruise. As of this writing it's only got the one post, but Eric is one of the smartest people I know, and despite his pessimism(which seems to be receding), always entertaining in his delivery. I'll also forgive him this once for stealing some of my zombie thunder from an upcoming post to my site.

So there, three sites by two talented individuals who deserve the attention, and have chosen to subbornly stake their claims outside of the myspace network. Hopefully this word of mouth helps.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Everybody Out Of The Pool!

Spent some time surfing the net today, and decided to check up on a group of people I haven't thought much about since college; the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, or VHEMT(pronounced Vehement). When I first stumbled upon their home page a few years back, I was amused and took it for a joke, but in actuality they seem like intelligent, nice enough people. They just dont want humans around, and have banded together to find like minded people willing to vow never to breed. It's a cause I can relate to.
Now, that probably sounded callous, seeing as how I have a lovely two year old daughter, and just because I can relate doesn't mean I wish I had never had kids. Far from it, my daughter is the most important thing in the world to me, and the time I spend at home with her is always the highlight of my day. And I don't really want the human race to become extinct, I don't think that's going to solve anything any more than the path we're going on. That being said, I just want other people to stop having kids. Seriously, enough already.
According to the International Programs Center of the US Census Bureau, there's an estimated 6,506,534,698 people living today, with another 6 million being added each month(yes, that factors in mortality). Compare that to the figures for 1930 which figured the world population to be only 2 billion. That means that in 76 years, well within the average lifetime, the human population has more than tripled. In the entire 100 years before the population had only doubled, which means as more people are born, our rate of reproduction increases. You hear figures like that, and you begin to wonder if it's too late to turn around all the damage we've done to this planet. I don't want to hear any whining about not being able to prove global warming; of course we can! 6 and a half billion people on the world, and look at how much trash YOU alone throw out in one week.
Now, I've never been one to believe that the world is going to end in one fiery ball of nuclear radiation. I may be proven wrong, but I think the changes will be more gradual than that, which only makes them more dangerous. If we're not being slapped in the face immediately with the repercussions of our actions, than we tend to forget about them. Which is why my daughter is going to be inheriting a world that I can't help but believe will be more difficult than mine.


The reason I like the VHEMT, I think, is that all important V in the front. Voluntary. I don't condone mandatory birth control, or any of those dystopian ideas, instead I'd like everyone to think about it. I know everyone wants pride in continuing their genetic line, but really, whats the point? Just go ahead and adopt if you really want kids, their just going to rebel and become your opposite anyway.
And so, I support the VHEMT, and although I've already broken their one and only rule, I raise my voice with theirs: May we live long and die out!

Or at least slow down.