Monday, November 08, 2010

Please Stand By

I currently have several blog posts in various states of completion, but I'm afraid there might be a not-very-brief interruption in service. Here's why:

Christmas came early, as I made a probably ill-advised purchase of Criterion's AK 100, a set of 25 Akira Kurosawa films. I'm a bit upset to learn that none of the discs have any of the special features available on the individually released discs, but if I'm being honest with myself, I probably wouldn't have watched most of them. I got through half of the commentary for Seven Samurai before I grew tired of Michael Jeck's highly informative but also dry and lifeless ramblings. And, on the plus side, they've gone back and corrected the few problems evident in earlier prints of the film. So, for 8 bucks a movie, I'll continue to convince myself that this was a wise investment.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween Picture Extravaganza

I'll take it as a good sign that I'm too busy enjoying Halloween to write about it. I'm watching too many movies, going to too many parties, carving too many pumpkins, and gathering candy from too many houses to really write or post anything in-depth. This upcoming week will probably see a few more detailed impressions of the holiday's activities, but for now, enjoy a few glimpses into my recent life.

This is my six year old daughter's first ever attempt at pumpkin carving. She did every part by herself, from the gutting to drawing the pattern to carving. And speaking of my daughter:

And finally, here's a growing mob of my horror related toys. There's a few more boxes to go through in the garage(which I believe are primarily McFarlane toys. At least Freddy and a second Thing figure are still to be unpacked), but here's what I've got out so far. The life-size Sally doll in the back was part of a promotion we did at Suncoast for Halloween a few years back. Every customer who had our club card was entered into a drawing for Sally. Our customer never came in for it, and after six months I was told I could do whatever I wanted with it. And there it is, uprooted temporarily from it's position directly in front of our back door. The year before we had done a similar promotion but the prize was a life-size Jack Skellington. I really would have loved to get the pair of them.

The tiny figures in the front may look like Marvel superheroes, but in fact they're the zombified version from the aptly named Marvel Zombies series. I have a larger zombie Spiderman, but didn't feel like cracking that one open yet. The Universal Monster mini-busts along the left side of the picture came with the DVD collector's set of all three of their respective collections(man, I really miss that Suncoast discount), and if you'll notice near the back, in the middle, I finally got a Creature From The Black Lagoon figure. It's a pretty sweet figure, even if it doesn't fit on it's base at all. That's fine, though; it's remarkably stable without it.

And that's all for tonight, I'm gonna go try and squeeze in a viewing of The Walking Dead before bedtime. I really need to demand Mondays off whenever Halloween falls on a Sunday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I'm off to a party tonight, so no time for a longer post. So here's a quick pic I had our neighbor snap of Amber and I, all dressed up and ready to go. Notice the skin flap hanging off my neck, and the brains peaking out on my head. Despite the gore, I kinda think I look like a Munster. And if you can't quite make out the brains, here's a closeup.

Food coloring, corn starch, water and dried onion flakes. Fully edible for that extra verisimilitude.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Office Outbreak: Day Ten

The zombies showed up today, led by Otto from the Simpson's Treehouse of Horror. It wasn't too bad, they weren't very big and I was able to just step on them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creepy Couture: Godzilla #2

The second of my two Godzilla shirts, both bought in Disneyworld. You may find it silly to buy a shirt I can order anywhere for a probably inflated price, but to you I say you just don't understand the joys of shopping while on vacation. Of my two shirts, I much prefer the design of the previous one, but I picked up this one for the whole concert-T vibe, further exemplified on the back:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Office Outbreak: Day Eight

The New Guys showed up on the shelf next to my desk today, and I have to admit I'm having a bit of trouble feeling any fear in their presence. It certainly isn't the quality of the sculpts, which are all pretty fantastic. It's probably their diminutive size, and the fact that Jason looks incredibly cute as he holds his knife out in front of him.

Creepy Couture: Frankenstein

In the battle of the classic Universal Monsters, the Creature From The Black Lagoon will undoubtedly win the day time and again for me. However, when it comes to the men behind those monsters, Boris Karloff is by far the reigning champ. As an actor I've only begun to delve into his considerable filmography over the last couple years, but he's always struck me as eminently watchable even in the worst schlock. That alone gives today's shirt a place of honor in my closet.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Creepy Couture: Evil Dead

This was purchased back in the middle days of my Suncoast employment, from the Northway Mall store I eventually ended up managing. At the time I was an employee at another store, and the Northway location was the cluttered, kinda grimy feeling store that got sent all of the toys and memorabilia once it went on clearance. That's how I picked up this sweet Evil Dead shirt for 2 bucks.

Office Outbreak: Day Seven

Things are getting serious at work. The Invisible Man has shown up.

What Would You Do?

This Halloween for me has been all about revisiting my childhood, often indirectly. My weekend movie marathons have consisted primarily of flicks I enjoyed as a child, while my weekday movie watching has most prominently featured films that I'd see in a video store or bits of on TV, but never actually got around to watching. This has extended to all sorts of areas, as I look through my old(or sometimes not-so-old) boxes of toys and memorabilia, and I've been reading Bunnicula to my daughter before bedtime. This put me in mind of a book I was mildly creeped out by as a child Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Thinks You Can Think. The book isn't scary, or even designed to be scary, but towards the end of the typically slim book is this two-page image:

That image would always get me slightly spooked, and it's stayed in my mind throughout my life. Amber has been teasing me about this for being a coward, but I think she's maybe misunderstanding me. I was never afraid of the picture, it never gave me nightmares or kept me up at night, but it haunted me from the first moment I saw it. The familiar distorted architecture and stylized figures combined with the silhouette-only Jibboo, did instill a little bit of fear. But it was like the fear you feel when studying a spider you've just caught; fascination mixed with some primal nervousness. And that caption, it stuck with me, too. Many a time have I asked myself, 'what would I do if I met a Jibboo? What. Would. I. Do?'

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creepy Couture: Godzilla #1

We're heading into the final stretch before the big day, so I'm ramping up my activity for this final week of, as Rik puts it, Halloween Proper is over. So, as an added bonus, each day I'll be posting whatever Halloween themed shirt I've got on that day. Yeah yeah, it's a bit conceited, but... what the hell, right? 'Tis the season, and all that.

Office Outbreak: Day Six

Alarming news, everyone! I got to work today and discovered that aliens had colonized the postage meter on my desk!

More specifically, it's been colonized by the alien from... Alien, and the predator from... Predator. For some reason they've put aside their famous enmity for the time being. There's no sign of the little spaceman from last week, but it can't be a good sign that that middle egg has hatched. I'm not too worried about it yet, but this does not bode well for the mouse population of the building.

Beware of the Blob

A short one one, but I'm getting this in just under the wire. A musical selection from today's viewing selection, which my daughter reacted to with delighted screaming. Enjoy the snazziest theme song for a horrible mass-murdering monster ever recorded.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Week In Review

It's been a bit of a busy day, and I'm about to start my weekly mini-marathon, so I'm just gonna recap the genre movies I've seen the last week, with more full reviews coming tomorrow and throughout the week.

Last week's mini-marathon had no theme, but the films were Critters 1 & 2, and Pumpkinhead. I suppose you could say the theme was 'childhood favorites', but it turns out I hadn't seen Pumpkinhead. I thought I had, but it turns out I had just seen Pumpkinhead 2. As with the week before, most of the enjoyment this night came from the group of people and the abundance of food. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the movies. Critters 1 &2 have long been guilty pleasures. I realize they're just Gremlins knockoffs, but I still get a kick out of them. Part 2 in particular ups the ante in terms of bodycount and inventiveness in a way a lot of cheapo sequels don't. It's also quite hardcore for a PG-13 movie, with frequent nudity and quite a bit of gore. Pumpkinhead was a pretty good movie, although it never quite hit the heights it was aiming for. That was perhaps due to the weird, cartoonishly oversized fake teeth Lance Henriksen was wearing.

Although my weekly marathons tend to rely on movies we've all seen, albeit not for years, the stuff I've been watching throughout the week has been all new-to-me stuff. Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers I already wrote about, but I also continued the Harryhausen theme with The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Along with those, I rented Oliver Stone's first studio film, The Hand, which was well done but maybe a tad too self serious. And last night I caught up with the 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies. The film had some seriously creepy moments scattered throughout, but never had any sense of real tension or fear.

Again, I'll write more tomorrow, but today was taken up with errands and housecleaning and now more movie watching. As much as I enjoy blogging and keeping up with this Countdown to Halloween, I'd much rather be watching scary flicks with friends.

And in case your interested, tonight's theme is "Remakes" with The Blob, The Thing, and Night of the Living Dead. I could easily have substituted Invasion Of The Body Snatchers or The Fly, but both of those are a bit long and slow for a group experience. Have fun with whatever films your catching up with tonight, I'm gonna go gorge on Chinese food and practical effects.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Office Outbreak: Day Three

No updates on the public domain classic monsters. They seem content to just chill atop my computer monitor for the moment. But when I came into work today I found this guy exploring my desk.

There's something written on the back of his suit. Does anyone know what Weyland-Yutani means? Why does that sound so familiar?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers

Between 9 hour work days, filming excursions and family events at my daughter's school(two in as many weeks!), it's hard to believe that I've been able to watch anything. Truthfully, it's been difficult, and most nights I can only find the energy to read a bit before bed, but I have been making a point of carving room into my schedule to clear out some of the sci-fi or horror films on my DVR and Netflix queue.

The other night I caught up with Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, a fondly remembered, if not entirely beloved, alien invasion flick from the height of the alien invasion fad in the fifties. It's primarily remembered for the special effects by stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, and rightfully so. Although the effects are obviously dated and a bit rickety by modern standards, the animation by Harryhausen gives the generically shaped UFOs a more dynamic feel as the tops of the saucers continually spin, even when the rest of the ship is at rest. It sounds like a small detail, but it actually made the movie feel remarkably different from other UFO movies of the time that I've seen(although, it should be noted, I haven't seen a remarkably large cross section of these films). In fact, most of the joy I gleaned from this movie came from the details, as I found most of the movie to be a bit dull and by-the-numbers. I may be going against the grain a bit, but I found myself fighting to stay awake in any of the scenes that didn't feature the UFOs or their shockingly handicapped passengers. Seriously, these aliens traversed the galaxy and created technology that would allow them to interact with lifeforms on a different plane of existence, and they can't create suits with arms that bend? Watching them try to pick things up was just silly.

But as I said, it's the details I really enjoyed in this film. I loved that the aliens lived at a different temporal frequency, and it took some effort to be seen or heard. I loved that the violence between our species was caused by an initial misunderstand due to not being able to communicate properly(and the American military's shoot-first policy). I loved that the aliens told time based on the position of various planets or stars in the sky(attack when planet X is in the shadow of alpha centauri, stuff like that). All of that was pretty awesome, and I even liked the manner in which they were eventually defeated, through sonic frequencies used to disrupt the alien technology, one of the many things that inspired Mars Attacks.

I am, of course, glad I watched the film. It gave me plenty to think about. During those moments where I wasn't in danger of passing out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Office Outbreak: Day One

I knew something was wrong the moment I walked into work this morning. There was an odd feeling in the air. Nobody looked me in the eyes, and it was oddly quiet. No one was gathered at the water cooler, or talking to coworkers about what they had seen on TV the night before. They just went about their business with heads down and a few nervous glances out of the corner of their eyes. I headed over to my desk, and then I knew what it was. It was staring me right in the face.

My office had been invaded by miniature public domain imitations of the classic Universal Monsters. The Mummy, Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, and what appears to be Count Orlock now perch menacingly atop my computer. The usual assortment of chintzy superhero toys were nowhere to be seen. Frankenstein's Monster and his outstretched arms may signify nothing more than the usual manner in which he carries himself in public, but The Wolfman and Count Orlock are clearly pointing at me, as if to say "you're next!"

A few minutes of searching and I found the displaced comic characters lying in disarray underneath my desk:

Batman was left hanging from some cables, the Joker was crushed underneath a boulder, and while the Hulk's infirmity wasn't immediately identifiable, he doesn't look very happy about his situation.

This isn't looking good. If you don't hear from me over the next couple days, someone call Van Helsing.

[Hat tip to Rik over at The Cinema 4 Pylon]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Untitled Zombie Film: Update 10/19/10

I've already mentioned, briefly, the currently in progress zombie project I'm working on with my pal Eric. It's a film I technically wrote back in our UAA days, and I've been steadily refining it over the past decade. I've finally reached the point where I'm sick of waiting for the perfect moment to film, or for everyone to be in one place(most of the friends I wrote parts for aren't in the same state these days), and I've decided to just go out there and do it. Whatever "it" is. At this point our method is to head outside and film a few key scenes, leaving plenty of room for improvisation if something suddenly inspires us. Our goal is to have enough footage at the end to put together a probably very amateurish but hopefully also kinda cool trailer. Right now I'm viewing this as a practice run for filming something larger next summer, so I'm not sweating it if not everything comes off perfectly.

We haven't had any large zombie gatherings since the last post, as most of our outings have consisted primarily of location scouting and brainstorming, with some on-the-fly filming of whatever strikes us cool, or possible with only the two of us. Here's a few more shots from our latest outing earlier today.

Filming out at Turnagain Pass. The basic subject was Eric's character traversing the wilderness. We gathered a lot of footage for what will probably amount to less than 5 seconds of film time.

Yes, our film will feature zombies, samurai swords, shotguns, and a bit of kung fu. It will be exceedingly nerdy, and possibly only amusing to us.

Eric, striking a pose as he prepares to face the coming onslaught.

Goofy old me, of course.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An Open Letter to The Creators of Haven

For those not paying attention, the Friday before last saw the season finale of Haven, a SyFy show based on The Colorado Kid, a novella by Stephen King. I'm still a bit surprised by the King connection, because it's more loosely based on that property than The Lawnmower Man was, and Mr. King sued to make sure he wasn't credited with inspiring that film. In fact, after sitting through the entire first season of Haven, I'm convinced that SyFy found out they owned the rights to The Colorado Kid for some reason, and then shoehorned in some character names from that book onto a pre-existing spec script. There's really no other way to explain it. The Colorado Kid is a short mystery with no solution, a weird story two reporters in a small Maine town tell to a younger reporter, about a dead body found on a lake shore in town. Every clue to the man's identity and reason for being in town, including how and why he died, contradicted every other bit of evidence. It was intentionally left unsolvable; the point was to give you just enough information to think there might be an answer, but not enough to ever find one. The SyFy show Haven is about an FBI agent in a small town where everyone seems to be hiding some weird, vaguely defined supernatural power, like weather control, pyrokinesis or shapeshifting.

But, I've reached the point in my life where I don't care about fidelity to the source material, so long as the finished product stands on it's own. Haven bears little relation to The Colorado Kid, but that's fine; the book is still there on my shelf if I ever want to revisit it. A crappy or unfaithful adaptation does not negate the existence of the original. So I watched Haven, and it never bothered me that the show was such a mismatch with the source material. What bothered me was the often horrendous writing and acting on the show. It eventually got better, if only marginally, by the latter half of the season, but it still left a lot of room for improvement. It may improve greatly in it's second season, or it may not, but you can rest assured that I'll probably watch every minute of it. With SyFy recently announcing that Haven will indeed have a second season, I'd like to provide the producers with some free, unsolicited advice that would, if not help the show, at least help my enjoyment of it.

First off, you need to establish a few more secondary characters. Right now you have 3 or 4 characters who show up in each episode, and maybe 4 more that show up every now and again. You need to increase that number a little. I'm not talking about giving large chunks of the show to new characters, I'm talking about building on the ones you've already introduced. This is supposed to be a very small, slightly isolated community, so after awhile we should be seeing some recurring faces. And while we're on the subject, stop making the weekly threat a brand new character that we've never seen before, and never see again. With such a small community you're soon going to run into the problem that Murder, She Wrote had. By the end of that series there had been 800 murders in a town of 3000. At that point if you lived in Cabot Cove you were either a murderer, a victim, or a cop. Or a writer who was always in the process of writing a book that was suspiciously similar to the murder. The best place you could have done this was in the midseason episode where it turned out the proprietor of a local hotel, and a very well known man in Haven, was a shapeshifter who had taken the identity from a dead man decades earlier. This was a huge shock to the characters, but we were shown that he was a shapeshifter pretty much the moment he was introduced. If this character had been around in earlier episodes, even if he didn't have a speaking role, the impact of the episode would have been magnified a hundredfold.

Next, take a little time and actually think about the supernatural threats in each episode. Topics like; How does this tie in with the overall theme of the episode? Why is this happening? How is this happening? Does this make any sense? I can't stress this last one enough; you need to make sure the supernatural threat being faced is at least logically consistent within the confines of the show. This shouldn't be that hard, because as show concepts go, 'weird shit happens' is remarkably flexible. For example, the episode where the guy who eats when angry, and inadvertantly poisons every other food item made with ingredients that came from the same place not only made no logical sense, but is very hard to visualize or explain. I'm still not sure how that one worked, and like most mysteries on the show you pretty much sweep them under the rug once they've been solved. Or the episode where that one lady has one night stands and then has a baby in the morning, while the father ages rapidly and dies of old age just as the baby is being born. The fact that a main character survived this isn't a surprise; I don't think anyone expected you to kill someone who's name is in the opening credits so early in the show's run, but your reasoning that he survived because he was outside of the building and not in close proximity to the child made no sense. What about the earlier victim who wasn't even within city limits? It's these little things you should think of before your show goes before the camera.

Now, it's not all doom and gloom. The show did get better, especially in the last quarter of the season. While never great, the show did feel like it was starting to get in gear, and all the disparate pieces were in the process of clicking. You took a risk introducing an overarching plot in the first episode, and then largely ignoring it for the remainder of the season, only to spring it on the audience in the last few minutes of the final episode. I think it worked, though, because it gave the sense that there might be a method to the madness(and frankly, I was starting to wonder what the point of it all was, because 'The Troubles' was always poorly defined as a reason for the overall weirdness of the town). But here's where things get tricky: the temptation next season is going to be a reversal back into episodic monster of the week episodes so you don't alienate new viewers. This is fine, to a point. Monster of the Week episodes are fun, but time needs to be given to advancing the master plot. You can't do it all at once, because then you'll have shot your load and there's nowhere to go. You can't parcel it out as slowly as you did in season one, because then people will stop caring. Fast. Following my first piece of advice by introducing new recurring characters will help with this. Right now the focus is solely on the two leads, and their respective mysteries can only be teased out for so long before it becomes annoying. Having a larger stable of characters and more involved storylines for the weekly threats will make it possible to advance the master plot without coming to a dead end. Right now there are a few thousand residents of Haven, and each of them has a story. Instead of treating each one as it's own individual story, start weaving them into one large whole.

So good luck when you return in the Spring, Haven. I'll be watching and rooting for you. And if you need a creative consultant, I work cheap.

Nautical Nightmare #3: Deep Rising

The final movie for our aquatically themed mini-marathon was the first and only film to be set above water. Perhaps the sudden decompression on the way up from the murky depths led to a case of the bends that, if not technically fatal, at least facilitated a temporary unconscious state. So, with Amber off to bed, and most of my guests stumbling out into the night to hopefully make it home before passing out, it was down to my pal Eric and I to soldier through 1999's Deep Rising.

The worst DVD cover in the world. I won't blame you if you never saw it.

It wasn't all that difficult, actually, as Deep Rising is a personal favorite, and a pretty fast moving film. It's not as ambitious as Leviathan, and it trades the impressive physical monster effects that were such a big part of the appeal of Leviathan and Deepstar Six for some rather dated CGI(hey, they were cool for 1999). The film is no lost classic, but it was only ever designed to deliver a few shocks and gross out moments in a slick, fun package, and it succeeds in that regard.

A lot of the film's success is due to the cast, led by the always dependable Treat Williams, who gets the most unassuming catchphrase ever heard in an action film until Ron Perlman shouted 'Crap!' in Hellboy. He's cheesy and macho in all the right ways as a smuggler who gets roped into hijacking an ocean liner that is mysteriously empty(and bloody) when they arrive. But we have to give credit to Kevin J. O'Connor, playing his usual fidgety nervous sidekick. His role would normally be rote comedic relief, but he brings a weird bemused energy to his pratfalls and screams, and it works better than it should.

As I said, no lost classic, but it was good enough that I've always wanted a sequel(and with an ending that implies the survivors are either on Monster Island, or the island from Lost, it almost demands one), and it's been a disappointment to see Stephen Sommers retreat into awful, awful updates of Universal monster movies.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Halloween Hootenanny #1: The Undead Shuffle

Here's a mix I did a couple years back made up entirely of songs relating to zombies. I hope you enjoy, and it helps get you into the swing of things.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nautical Nightmare #2: Leviathan

If Deepstar Six was a nautical riff on Alien, than Leviathan would be an aquatic version of John Carpenter's The Thing. A group of people in a remote and inhospitable environment stumbles across the wreckage of a foreign expedition and unwittingly returns with a shape shifting lifeform capable of infecting the entire crew. The details, some of them, may be different, but it's hard to ignore the often striking similarities. In both cases the lifeform in question spreads like a disease, infecting a host and gradually taking them over. In both cases if a piece is cut off of the lifeform, the creature can grow from both the original body and the new smaller piece. The only real difference often seems to be the locale.

One thing Leviathan lacks, though, is the often apocalyptic sense of paranoia and claustrophobia that The Things has. There's a couple of character's who keep their infection a secret from the rest of the crew, but there's never any real question about who may or may not be infected, and once they are they die in fairly quick order. Aside from a creepy scene involving the scavenging of a sunken Russian ship(watch for the oversize, mutated fish skeleton on the ocean floor which is completely unremarked upon by the characters), the movie goes for a more straightforward action/horror feel. This isn't too say Leviathan is a horrible film, in fact it's quite fun at times. This is aided primarily by Peter Weller's standard idiosyncratic performance and Stan Winston's standard gorgeous creature design(something also shared with The Thing; although Rob Bottin did the bulk of effects on that film, Stan Winston helped out on some of the more memorable effects). The monster looks great, a monster that keeps some of the physical characteristics of everything and everyone it kills, but never loses the look of a giant fish.

As I said, the film is often fun, but also often groaningly overdone. Take the ending, where the surviving characters escape from the ocean floor and run into their mysterious corporate liaison, seen up til now only on a video monitor, and played by the always slightly creepy Meg Foster. The movie, which has been trying to build up horror and claustrophobia, ends suddenly with the death of a main character and a stupid punchline. I guess that's a pretty standard way to end an action movie, but still a bit tonally off for a horror movie. All in all, a decent movie despite it's faults, but in the future I'll be sticking with The Thing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interlude #2

It's another busy day. Tonight was taken up with a family night at my daughter's school. In the interim, enjoy this trailer for Dirty Dancing reimagined as directed by David Lynch. Not really horror, I know, but plenty creepy. It's amazing how a few little edits can turn something more or less innocent into something that seems unspeakably perverse. Which I guess pretty much sums up Mr. Lynch's career.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nautical Nightmare #1: Deepstar Six

As I get into the spirit of Halloween with an increased amount of horror movie viewings(which is actually saying something) I find that the movies I really want to see most aren't the time-tested classics, but the semi-shitty monster flicks that stalked video store shelves in the late eighties and early nineties. As much as I love The Shining or The Exorcist, what I really want to watch is crap like Pumpkinhead and Graveyard Shift. It's this urge that's been guiding my movie choices in the weekly movie nights Amber and I host every weekend, and it's why I ended up watching a triple feature this week of monster movies set in(or on) the ocean. The movies all had to have monsters, not just sea creatures of a larger and more bloodthirsty nature than normal. So, with this single rule, we made our choices: Deepstar Six, Leviathan, and Deep Rising.

The first movie of the night, Deepstar Six, came out in 1989 as part of a wave(pun intended) of aquatic sci-fi/horror films that also included Leviathan and The Abyss. The movie isn't anything special, but I remember thinking the monster was pretty cool. Turns out my memories were entirely correct; the movie is generic as can be, and the monster is still pretty cool. When it comes to rewatching these movies from my youth, I'm always worried that the adult experience will be so negative as to overshadow whatever positive memories I may hold. I think the best that can be said about Deepstar Six is that this didn't happen; the movie was pretty much what I expected it to be. What I wasn't expecting, though, was how much the film cribbed from Alien. The film features a few scenes where a character explores the ocean that are reminiscent of John Hurt exploring the spaceship at the beginning of Alien, and the film makes frequent use of radar as a suspense building device. This may just be the requirements of setting a monster movie in an isolated, enclosed area surrounded by an inhospitable environment, but it's not hard to see the pitch line for this film as 'an aquatic Alien.' Either way, the film doesn't have any of the style or skill, not to mention the suspense and visceral punch of that far superior Ridley Scott film, and the writing and characters are rote. Each character is defined only by a single characteristic, like 'British guy' or 'Russian guy' or 'Girl'.

Like I said, the film was about what I expected. The monster effects were still modestly impressive, although the design was a little clunkier than I remembered. But at the very least Deepstar Six didn't make me question the intelligence of my younger self.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Slight Interlude

I've got a longer post in the works, but I'm off to play boardgames with the family for now, and I might not get to it tonight. In the meantime, check out this pretty nifty video for the song Nightmare by techno outfit Brainbug. I'm not normally a techno fan(in fact I despise most of it), but this song is pretty catchy, and it sure fits the month's theme.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Monolith Monsters

One of the best things about being a parent is sharing things that you loved when you were your child's age. Now that my daughter is 6, that means I've been sharing comic books and lightly scary movies like Godzilla and The Incredible Shrinking Man. With Halloween just around the corner we're trying to get into the holiday spirit by cramming in as many holiday appropriate films as possible. Our latest pick was, as stated yesterday, The Monolith Monsters. Below is the trailer again, in case you missed it.

The Monolith Monsters is unlikely to be considered essential viewing by any but the most devoted of classic horror fans, yet it perfectly fits the criteria I've laid out for myself concerning my ongoing cinematic education. It also dovetails quite nicely with my daughter's burgeoning interest in scary movies. Of course, at this age I'm not about to show her anything too extreme or gory, and those old black and white monster flicks are about the perfect speed. That's fine by me, as it gives me an excuse to flesh out my knowledge of horror films from the pre-sixties. I may have seen more black and white horror and sci-fi than most people my age, but there's still a ton out there left to see. So, with snacks in hand we sat down on the couch to watch The Monolith Monsters while mom cross-stitched next to us. A portrait of the middle class family.

It turns out The Monolith Monsters was a pretty good choice for the night's entertainment. There's nothing in the film that would be considered scary by a modern audience, but it still has an impressive sense of suspense and a pretty large scale. We're shown pretty early on just how the titular space rocks will become a threat, though it takes a good chunk of the movie for the heroes to figure it out. In the interim we watch as the intrepid scientist and his best gal(know what I love about these films? The way scientists are treated as romantic leads and men of action) try to figure out why people are being found turned to stone and surrounded by shiny black rocks.

The reason? It turns out those space rocks can draw the moisture, specifically the silica, out of people and use it to grow. The growth is limited only by the amount of water available. The rocks will continue to grow until they are standing tall with the nearby mountains and they topple under their own weight, only to start over again as the individual pieces begin to draw moisture from whatever source is nearby. The science behind this is, of course, ridiculous, but it's treated believably by the movie to the point that you don't really question it. It also helps that the rock effects are, albeit simple, very cool looking, and the film sets a pretty good pace.

As I said, nothing in the film is very scary, but there is suspense. The scene where the scientist figures out how the rocks operate, and suddenly realizes there's a rainstorm raging outside, is particularly well done. Above all, the movie is fun. It was a great way to spend the evening, under a blanket, on the couch, sharing snacks and scares with my daughter.

"Rocks, Joe?!"

Today's lesson in my daughter's burgeoning horror education is The Monolith Monsters. This is great, because I haven't watched it yet either, although I love the trailer below. I'll post back later with our thoughts.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Our Untitled Zombie Film

About 10 years ago, hanging out with a bunch of friends I met at college, I began working on a zombie film. The film was to be a collaboration, written and starring my friends and I as characters very obviously based on ourselves. The script that I wrote came out of several late night conversations about what we would do if zombies rose to devour the living. Over the next decade I would return to the script and rewrite or revise it here and there. Friends moved, or lost touch, and the movie never got made. Until now. We're not really filming the entire movie, but I've decided I'm sick of waiting and not doing anything, and so I've gotten together those still in town and those interested and we're putting together a short trailer as a test run of the film. Today was day one of shooting, and it was a blast. Here's a few pics from the set(or, rather, my backyard). Enjoy this little teaser for the finished product, which should be completed over the next month or so.

Amber applying makeup.

Testing out a makeshift camera dolly. We eventually had to scrap the idea because the ground wasn't even enough.

My sister's friend Matthew doing one of our few actual stunts during a practice run.

A few of our featured zombies. Nathan, for one, seems to be enjoying his unlife.

Eric and I coordinating our "big action set piece" of the day.

And that's a wrap. For the day. There's lots more to do, and we'll be filming throughout the fall and into winter, so I'll be sure to keep updating as we go.

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Hole in the Wall

This is not a ghost story.

The main reason this is not a ghost story is that there are no ghosts in it. No long dead wraiths with unfinished business, no malicious poltergeists throwing furniture against the walls, and no lost souls trying to reach out from the other side. If this were a ghost story it would probably be more satisfying. You could come away from reading it satisfied that you had gotten your times worth. "This is about the time I met a ghost, and this is what it had to tell me." Perhaps it would cause you to question your beliefs about the afterlife. Perhaps it would reaffirm them. Or perhaps you would simply dismiss it as an obviously fraudulent Halloween tale. Unfortunately there are no such meetings in this story, and it is far too mundane to be likely to inspire such impassioned responses. What I will say, however, is that this story is completely true, and it's about the scariest moments in my life.

During my first two years of college I worked a couple nights a week cleaning a laundromat. I would come in sometime between midnight and 7am and sweep, mop and wipe down the laundry machines. It was not a glamorous or high paying job, but it was easy, the money was under the table, and I got paid a flat rate per night. That meant that if I worked quickly I could make nearly 20 bucks an hour. Not a bad job for a college kid with no bills. A couple hours work and I'd have enough for a couple new CDs. It also helped that I enjoyed the night. I enjoyed biking to work through dark and empty streets, seeing no one but the occasional cat or dog. I liked biking home as the sun was just about to rise. Sometimes these commutes would turn into full on excursions, as I biked down the coastal trail, or just roamed around the deserted midtown area.

The night on which this story takes place was in the early fall, which in Anchorage means that it got very dark at night and there was snow on the mountains, but it was still temperate enough that you could comfortably venture out at night with a light jacket. I started working about 1am, and there was nothing about the night-or the laundromat itself- that would make me think that soon I would be fearing for my life.

I went about my business as usual for the first hour; headphones on as I wiped down the washing machines, swept the floor and emptied the trash. After throwing the trash into the dumpsters around back I took off my headphones as I switched the CD in my discman, and I noticed a sound I had so far missed: running water. Running water; that's not something you'd be surprised to hear in a laundromat, even one that was closed, but this sounded different. It wasn't the sound of water running through pipes, or of a slow drip. This was the sound of open water. Imagine a deep and slowly moving creek. I had already turned off the power to the laundry machines, so I checked the sinks and toilets; none of them were running.

Along the back of the laundromat, running the length of the business, was a 3-4 foot wide corridor. It was primarily for storage and the pipe-works. You could walk through it, if you were sure to watch your head for frequent pipes, and didn't mind emerging covered in dust and cobwebs. I checked back there, turning on the one bare bulb, but none of the pipes were leaking. And anyways the sound of water was no louder in the corridor than anywhere else in the building. Feeling my obligation to the owners was fulfilled, I stopped looking for leaks and set about my final task of mopping.

Now that I had noticed it, however, the sound of water was all I could hear, and uneasiness started to creep in.

At the time I regularly wore a necklace. A small Chinese coin on a leather strap. I'm not normally a necklace person, and have never before or since worn any form of jewelry, but this had been the lone gift at a pretty crappy birthday, so it held some small sentimental value. As I worked I became very aware of that necklace. I felt very clearly the leather strap on the back of my neck. As I worked that awareness rose to irritation. And still the sound of water seemed to become louder. The strap of the necklace first itched, then seemed to burn. My discman remained off, because I was filled with the sudden conviction that I needed to be able to hear my surroundings. I frequently stole looks around the room, although there was nothing out of the ordinary. The room was brightly lit, empty and uncluttered. The only thing I could see was my reflection in the glass window running along the front of the building.

Finally, my job done, I emptied the mop bucket and set the supplies back in the closet and made my way to the door of the building. Something near the bottom of the back wall caught my eye, and I detoured to take a look. The wall was wooden in this portion, and along the bottom there was a small hole. It was about 3 inches wide, and maybe 6 inches high. It was almost pitch black in there, but I could see something reflective as I knelt down in front of it. Water. Not still water, but not running water, either. It seemed, in the dim light, to be moving always closer, like a miniature tide. I had a sudden sense of scale that shouldn't have fit into that tiny space. Logically I knew the area back there could only have been a couple feet, but it seemed so much bigger in my heightened sense of paranoia, as if I was looking in on a distant, vast ocean. Water was all I could hear, and I was suddenly filled with the absolute certainty that if I didn't leave right now, I would die. It wasn't even fear, just a flat understanding that my life would end if I didn't get the hell out of there immediately.

This is the point in the story where, if it were a proper ghost tale, the presence would make itself known. A ghostly pale claw would reach out towards me, and my hair would turn white as I ran gibbering from the building and into madness. But this is not a proper ghost story, and nothing made itself known to me. Nothing happened at all, aside from me rushing out the door, locking it behind me, and biking back home. A little more quickly and direct than usual, but nothing eventful. I went back to work the next week, and didn't feel the slightest uneasiness. The sound of water was gone, and for the rest of my time working there I never had any inkling that anything was wrong. The hole was still there, but I never again saw any water behind it. The only proof I had of the event was a red ring around my neck where the leather strap lay, but even that had faded by the next day.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Classic(?) Working Dead

It's late, I've been cleaning my house all day, and now I have to go watch Fringe, so I'm going to cheat a bit on this one by rerunning a classic review that might help you decide what horror movie to watch this weekend. My review may sound a bit negative, but I think it is, in the end, a film I'm glad I saw, and actually want to watch again sometime soon. Also, continue to check out the Countdown to Halloween website, which has some great blogs taking part in the celebration. I've been reading some of them, and a lot of them are very entertaining. I know, this is cheap, but trust me, tomorrow's will make up for it. And there are some exciting things in the pipe for the rest of the month.

"Classic" Review: Cthulhu

This last few weeks have marked the passage of the seventh annual Anchorage International Film Festival, an event for which I was lucky enough to be a judge(in one of the short film categories). This presented me with a golden opportunity to attend every screening for free. I was in heaven. Unfortunately, this happened to coincide with my increasingly stupid looking decision to take on a second job for extra holiday money. Coupled with normal familial duties, I was unable to attend all but two films. The first of the two, Once, was extraordinarily enjoyable, and I'll be writing about that one at a later date. The second film, and subject of this post, was Cthulhu, a low budget, DVE-shot horror film loosely based on HP Lovecraft's Shadow Over Innsmouth.

In this filmed version, the main character, Russ, is a gay history professor in Seattle who is called back to his home town of Rivermouth when his mother passes away. Back in Rivermouth, Russ can't wait to return to Seattle, finding nothing but antagonism from his father(who leads the church of the Esoteric Order of Dagon) and the townsfolk who view his sexuality as the height of mental degeneration. His father, and indeed a few of the townspeople, take a very aggressive interest in wanting to see Russ have children(for reasons I'll explain later, but will probably make a bit of sense to people familiar with the story). The only friendly face he sees is that of his childhood friend Mike, a divorced father with whom he had a... sexually ambiguous relationship growing up. I suppose at this point something should be said about the homosexual themes in this film, since the protagonist's homosexuality is a large part of the plot both literally and metaphorically. Russ' father is upset at his son not for being gay, it seems, but for not having children, and metaphorically Russ' homosexuality heightens the tension and fear of returning to a small town, let alone one as bizarre as Rivermouth.

The plot(and I'm going to give spoilers here, so if you haven't read the story, or want to see this fresh, I'd suggest you skip ahead a paragraph) revolves around Russ' heredity, and the Esoteric Order of Dagon that his father leads. Dagon, as Lovecraft readers know, is one of the Deep Ones, a fish-god that grants wealth to those who offer up human sacrifices. There's also a lot of inter-species breeding going on, as the fish-men mate with humans and produce immortal offspring, and the people themselves begin to become more fish-like. Russ' family is so intent on him having children because his family has long been the emissaries of Cthulhu(although the church names Dagon, he is never specifically mentioned in the movie, instead they use the more popularly known Cthulhu), and they need him to father the next generation of fish-people and pave the way for the return of the Deep Ones. This is a little ill-defined in the movie, as much of the film is. A lot of it still works, however, to heighten the confusion and fear, but at times is the ambiguity is a bit off-putting. It works well when the characters are confused and unsure of things, but when they seem completely aware of everything and the audience is in the dark, it's a bit frustrating.

Now, I'll be honest here and admit that my initial reaction as the film went to black was 'god, what a mess!' The film is so jumbled and switches scenes and tones at such a jarring rate that it seemed to me a horribly confused mess. But, as the credits rolled, and that final image stuck with me, and I thought back over the film, I realized that the film had some very good ideas, but was slightly off the mark. The film feels one or two drafts, and several days in the editing bay away from being a really good film. The director, Dan Gildark, was at the screening I attended, and said that his distributor was imposing 8 minutes of edits on him, and I really do think that with those trimmings the film could be something special. Particularly, the flashbacks seem largely unnecessary and confusing. There's a brief flashback of Russ entering a room where a woman is crying, you see him with a shocked face as the woman screams 'What did you do to me?' Later in the film Russ is seen attempting suicide in flashback. Who was this woman? Was it his sister(the only prominent female from his childhood we see)? What was done to her? Did Russ attempt suicide because of this or some other reason? It's not clear at all, although when I asked him the director said there was a whole side story there that he cut out, choosing instead to make that vague and mysterious. I think this was a mistake, because without any context the flashbacks only serve to distract from an already convoluted plot, and it seems like these scenes should be important but there's absolutely no connection to the rest of the film.

But let's focus on what does work. As I said, the idea of an ostracized gay man returning home to face malevolent cosmic forces AND unfriendly townspeople is well realized, and more literally turns the hero into 'the outsider', something the film is tactful enough not to hammer you over the head about. The more mundane family and relationship moments work very well, which is something that doesn't happen often in horror movies. There's frequent, albeit brief, suggestions that place this movie in the near future; radio programs talk about increasing violence and ecological decay, one reports that the last surviving wild polar bear had died in Siberia, and every television station seen in the background has a 'breaking news' banner and blurry images of violent events. This all serves to heighten the 'Lovecraftian' horror of the story, with the madness being an ever present threat around the edges of the characters lives until it forces it's way into the center stage. The ever-present threat of rising ocean waters brings with it the implication that the world of the Deep Ones will be coming to overtake the world of man, which is a pretty clever twist.

Cthulhu was shot on DVE, which gave the theatre image a slightly blurry, out of focus look(I don't know if this will be the same for the image on a smaller television set), but made the colors incredibly bright and pure. This is a fairly low budget horror film, so anyone expecting a horror-fest like the Stuart Gordon/Brian Yuzna Lovecraft adaptations is going to be very disappointed. The effects, what little there are, are only briefly glimpsed and, at one point, slightly cheesy. Instead this film is more of a character driven drama with horror elements in it. Some of the horror elements, unfortunately, rely a little too much on the trappings of the genre, such as a scene where a little boy in front of a staticy television screen says "we're waiting... for Cthulhu" and the camera jump cuts a bit closer as he says Cthulhu. Or the crazy old aunt in a mental ward who turns away from the character, towards the camera as she starts over-emoting her forebodings of doom. Or a scene with a weird glowing tentacle thing that would look cheap no matter what, but is made slightly silly by the jump-cut and ominous, piercing string music that accompanies it. All of these scenes are played with such straight-faced seriousness that they stumble over the line and into camp, and are at odds with the tone of the rest of the film.

Speaking of things at odds with the film; Tori Spelling. The director had nothing bad to say about Tori Spelling, but I wanted to comfort him and give him my condolences that she was in this film, because her completely over the top performance suggests an alien trying to emulate femininity after watching hours of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop and really bad porno dialogue. I might be a bit harsh on her, but she was really, really unconvincing, and while her plotline was funny and integral, a better actor would have focused the laughs on the humor in the script, not the horrible line readings and unattractive come-ons. Aside from her, I have nothing but good things to say about most of the cast. Although some of the supporting characters ham it up a bit, the two male leads are generally well suited to the parts they play.

So in the end my rating for this film would put it around 3 out of 5 stars, which may be a bit misleading. I don't dislike this film, in fact I quite enjoyed it and plan on seeing it again when it gets an official distribution. But, due to some jarring tonal shifts and jumbled plotting it didn't fully engage me. I have high hopes that a slightly edited version, released in the spring, will improve my rating for this film. The director mentioned as his influences the films of Japanese directors Takashi Miike and Kyoshi Kurosawa. Miike I didn't spot, but anyone who enjoys the glacial pace and subtle horror of Kurosawa's films(particularly Charisma, a film I should admit I understand not a goddamn bit) will probably find a lot here to enjoy.

One last thing should be said about the sexual themes in this movie; I've been lurking around in the wastelands of the IMDB comment board, seeing what people had to say about this film. Many are purists upset at the liberties taken with the source material, and angered by the lack of tentacled monsters and outright scares(there are a few in Cthulhu, but that isn't the main focus), but a surprising amount of them are angered by the fact that the film has a publicly gay main character. This is upsetting, and surprising to me because I assumed that anyone open-minded enough to read Lovecraft, with his mind-bending mythology that isn't exactly Judea-christian friendly, should be open-minded enough to deal with a movie where two men kiss(yes, there is a love scene, and although it will gross many people out, it is filmed with more class, tenderness and romanticism than most heterosexual love scenes, and has 100% less testicles than Borat did). Some have argued that Lovecraft didn't write about sex at all, and so it should be left out of any filmed adaptations. And while that's true to a point, it should be mentioned that many of his stories dealt indirectly with bestiality. What is The Shadow Over Innsmouth about, if not a bunch of fishermen having sex with fish?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Woeful Wednesday Comics

It's Wednesday, and as any nerd worth his salt knows, new comics hit the shelves today. Or, if your like me and get your comics through the mail, you come home from work to find a nice little box by your door. Me being who I am, and this being the month it is, I figured I'd take a moment to highlight a title or two that fit the holiday mood.

Releasing today is the second issue of Neonomicon, Alan Moore's official take on the Cthulhu mythos. He's flirted with Lovecraft throughout his career, allowing traces of his works to show up in League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but with Neonomicon he tackles the Great Old Ones head on. This is a direct sequel to his slim graphic novel The Courtyard, although each can be read separately as the first issue recaps the conclusion of that story. The Courtyard was a slim, foreboding and creepy work, but lacked a lot of the punch of some of Moore's other works. It felt, in the end, a bit half-formed. Alan Moore has written some killer short comics(Batman; the Killing Joke, Mogo Doesn't Socialize) in his days, but his strength lies primarily in his longer works, where he allows the characters to grow and your expectations to crystallize before blowing the scope and breadth of the work wide open. Although still in the 'setting the stage' phase of this four part miniseries, Neonomicon is poised to deepen the mystery and horror of this cops and Cthulhu story. In this series we follow a pair of FBI agents as they try to discover why one of the colleagues killed several people in a ritualistic manner, and now speaks in gibberish that should be familiar to most horror fans.

Now, this is released by Avatar Press, which specializes in bizarre one-off stories by high profile writers like Garth Ennis and Alan Moore. They basically provide an outlet for some of the comics these writers have in mind but can't really market to any of the larger companies. This is great in theory, but often means they're simply packaging Warren Ellis' shopping list in comic form. They also have a very small stable of artists which give most of their books a rather similar and, frankly, amateurish look. Luckily, however, Moore has been teamed with Jacen Burrows, by far the most talented and professional artist working for them. His clean and polished style contrasts wonderfully with the often horrific images he's tasked with drawing.

One thing the original Courtyard graphic novel did extremely well, and Neonomicon continues, is the very unsettling way things unfold. Both stories begin as pretty standard, although very dark and grim, police procedurals. It isn't until you get deeper into the book that the weirdness starts to really creep in. From weird psychoactive drugs, cults, and cities in domes, all this stays on the sidelines but begins, after awhile, to feel overwhelmingly, opressively horrific.

Perfect reading for this time of year.

If only I didn't have to wait two weeks for my shipment to arrive.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The 31 Days of Halloween(minus 4)

I'd actually thought about doing a month-long marathon of blog posts in honor of Halloween a couple of weeks ago. It's something I attempted a couple years ago, but for various reasons did not follow through with. I attribute it to a combination of my general tendency towards procrastination and my tendency to overthink my blog posts into a state of incoherence. But then the first came, and went, and the second came and went, then of course the third and fourth followed, as they are wont to do, and still no post. But here we are, on the evening of the 5th, and I'm finally posting my first blog of the month with the stated intent to fill out the remainder of the month with daily posts. What changed? What prompted my decision to commit to this? A visit to my old friend Rik's blog, where I see he's taking part in the Countdown to Halloween, and suddenly my interests were once again piqued.

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, although over the past few years it's been missing the magic I remember from my childhood years. I would try to recapture that childhood feeling of warm, comforting creepiness here and there, by making annual Halloween playlists to take into work(Rhino's Brain In A Box set helped immeasurably in that regard), I would invite people over for horror movie marathons, and I'd go out of my way to rewatch old favorites. But something was missing, and I think it's finally starting to come back.

My daughter is 6 now, and she's reached that age where Halloween is something she proactively takes an interest in, beyond just getting candy. She plans her costumes almost a year in advance, and has recently taken an interest in 'scary' movies. Now, I'm not about to start showing her the Saw movies, or John Carpenter's The Thing(although, come to think of it, I was YOUNGER than her when I first saw that one), but we've already had some Godzilla marathons(starting with the original, and then moving on to some of the more recent action-fests), and she's watched some of the old Universal classics with me. So this year I've decided to go out of my way to make Halloween as special as it was when I was a kid, staying up late to watch the horror movies that populated the after-midnight scheduling of all local channels. We may not watch a scary movie every night, and probably wont, but I'm planning on squeezing in as many we can over the next 27 days.

I plan on, starting tomorrow, filling this blog out with some of my favorite things about Halloween, some spooky true stories, and a running guide of what I'm introducing my daughter to, along with some of her thoughts on them. All this and some lists to program some killer Halloween marathons and, of course, ideas for your next mixtape. Stay tuned as I try to recapture that Halloween magic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Daily Outrage: Alaska Vs. Starving Children

I consider myself to be a fairly optimistic person. I may not always seem like it, because I love to talk about bad news and am generally introverted and, shall we say, not cheerful, but I tend to think the best of things. I feel that as bad as things in this world are, we wake up each day with the chance and power to fix it. There are, however, times when a news story crosses my path that fills me with bottomless rage and despair for the human race. Most often these stories involve a major oil company, or Sarah Palin, but this one merely involves someone associated with Palin; her former lieutenant governor(and current Alaska governor) Sean Parnell.

Recently Sean Parnell vetoed a bill that would have increased funding to Denali KidCare by 2.9 million dollars, a move which would have covered an additional 1,300 children and 218 pregnant women. For those who don't know, Denali KidCare is a program that provides care and aid to children and expectant mothers in low income families. It's a program very dear to my heart, because it helped Amber and I immeasurably when Pandora was born. Amber lost her job early into her pregnancy, and was having trouble finding a new one when she would have to take maternity leave so soon. And, truth be told, neither of us wanted to both be working full time, so I picked up a couple extra jobs so Amber could stay home. I was, for a time, working three jobs. A couple days a week I would be working 20 hours a day, biking between jobs that were on opposite ends of town, and sleeping for a few minutes here and there in the backroom at work. And still I was having trouble making ends meet. Technically I should have been above the poverty line, but I could barely pay the phone bill, let alone afford the medical care Amber and my unborn daughter required.

With Denali KidCare, Amber was able to stay home through the last half of her pregnancy, and almost the first year of Pandora's life. We were able to afford regular checkups for the both of them with a family practitioner, and we never had to worry about having essentials like bread, milk, eggs, cheese, or pre-natal vitamins. Without Denali KidCare, I can't honestly say we would have been able to have all of that. It is a program that I credit for the fact that I have a healthy 6 year old tearing up my house. Surprisingly, I'm thankful.

So, why would Sean Parnell veto a program that provides such a desperately needed service to thousands of struggling children? Because he discovered that some of Denali KidCare's money goes towards 'abortion related services'. Some of you probably agree with this decision, or at the very least can understand why a republican governor up for re-election would take a stand on a topic sure to please his party. But here's the kicker; Denali KidCare only spends about .18% of their annual budget on abortions, or abortion related services. And that phrase, abortion related services, is important; the money spent went towards services like medical consultation, and counseling for women interested in abortion, and only covered abortions when medically necessary. Meaning, abortions would only be covered under Denali KidCare when the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother. And there's more: Denali Kid Care is legally required to cover medically necessary abortions due to a 2001 State Supreme Court ruling that stipulates any program providing medically necessary care cannot discriminate in the case of abortions.

But let's say that Denali KidCare did cover 'elective abortions'(whatever that means- I've never met anyone who wants an abortion), so what? What gives Sean Parnell the right to deny funding to a program that provides a helpful, and legal, service, simply because he personally disagrees with it? He's an elected official, not an arbiter of culture or values. This was not a moral decision on Parnell's part, this was pandering to his political party. But here he's radically misjudged the situation. He's standing up for his 'beliefs' against a program that not only doesn't violate those beliefs, but actively works to uphold them. Nobody wants an abortion; they're a final resort for people who see themselves as unable to care for a child. If low income expectant mothers have a lifeline in Denali KidCare, a program that would provide them with help when they most desperately need it, there would be remarkably fewer abortions.

This is an outrage, and Sean Parnell needs to hear from us on this. The State Senate also needs our input, as they are reluctant to override Parnell's decision. So I urge everyone reading this to email Parnell and our senators at the addresses listed below and share your feelings on the subject.

Addresses and phone numbers for all members of the Alaska State Legislature can be found here:

Sean Parnell can be reached here:

And you can even find him on Facebook, here:

Monday, June 07, 2010

Superman's Dark Desire

The characters of Nightwing and Flamebird in the DC universe have a bit of a complicated back story, with at least half a dozen separate characters taking on each of those names. For example, the Nightwing and Flamebird that are currently the focus of Action Comics not that Superman is off in New Krypton bear no relation to the Nightwing of the Batman comics, which is the costumed identity of Dick Grayson, the first Robin(although he was inspired by the characters, who were inactive at the time he chose the mantle). Basically the names Nightwing and Flamebird are archetypal, and many people have taken over the mantle in order to give a symbolic weight to their heroic antics.

But that's not how the characters first saw light way back in the early sixties.

In the Superman comics of the 60s and 70s, Supes and his pal Jimmy Olsen had a series of adventures in the Kryptonian city of Kandor, which had been shrunken down and bottled by the villain Brainiac. In this miniature city Superman had no superpowers, and through some weird misunderstanding he was branded an outlaw, so he fashioned himself a new identity based on a bird native to Krypton; Nightwing. Jimmy Olsen joined in as Flamebird, and together they became a famous vigilante duo, fighting crime and righting wrongs.

The implication is clear: Superman's secret desire is to be Batman, and he roped Jimmy Olsen into his role-play fantasies as his own Robin. This is a theory pretty much confirmed by the comic itself; the persona's of Nightwing and Flamebird conform to the Batman and Robin iconography, with Nightwing in all black and Flamebird in bright oranges and yellows. Instead of a Batcave they have a Nightcave, and a Nightmobile instead of a batmobile. If that wasn't explicit enough, Superman chooses the name Nightwing because there are no bats on Krypton, so the name Batman would just confuse people.

But wait, there's more!

In post-Crisis continuity(for the non-comic nerds, Crisis on Infinite Earths was an event that spanned every DC Comics title in the mid-eighties, ending in a massive rewrite of the continuity up to that point, in an effort to streamline the comics and in some ways start from scratch) Nightwing and Flamebird were re-written as part of the Kyrptonian creation myth. Nightwing and Flamebird are part of a trinity of servants to Rao, the Kryptonian god(the third servant would be Vohc, the Breaker). Each generation, the essences of Nightwing and Flamebird are reborn in two individuals with a great love for each other that is doomed to end tragically in death.

I'm not quite sure how Jimmy and Supes fit into that equation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Abominable Birthday

Vincent Price is probably the one celebrity I regret never having the chance to meet. His screen presence- a unique mix of gravitas and winking flamboyance - never really masked a genuine(if slight) creepiness. Yet he seemed so genuine, so pleasant, and he was always so much fun to watch. Today would have been Vincent Price's 99th birthday, and in honor of the occasion I plan on using my long Memorial Day weekend to catch up on a few of his many films that I haven't seen. I also plan on revisiting some old favorites, so for those interested in hosting their own celebratory film fest at home, here's a short list of personal Vincent Price favorites.

The Masque of the Red Death: Vincent Price was already a horror icon by the time he started making adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories with director Roger Corman, but it might be this pairing that most informed his popular image. In all, they made 8 Poe films together, and they proved immensely popular. They all hold something to recommend them-The Fall of the House of Usher in particular has some wonderfully spooky monologues from Price- but none of them quite reach the heights that Red Death does. Corman's horror films were always slightly campy, and usually had some experimental, psychedelics moments, but Red Death drops camp in favor of majesty, while still allowing for a trippy dream sequence. Vincent Price reins his performance- as a sadistic prince who throws a party while the plague ravages the countryside outside his castle walls- in to a level usually reserved for his non-horror films, and Corman matches that tone and allows the film to maintain a sense of creeping, mounting dread.

The Tingler: William Castle was a much better showman than a director, and once removed from the theatrical gimmicks his films often seem horribly creaky and dull. The Tingler miraculously escapes that rut with a nifty idea for a monster(one that kills and can only be thwarted by the sound of screaming) and a few in-film gimmicks that still live up, like the one shocking scene that utilizes color in an otherwise black and white film.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes: Not only my favorite Vincent Price films, but one of my favorite horror films period. Price plays Dr. Phibes, a disfigured man who is presumed dead, and uses this to his advantage as he systematically kills off the physicians who he believes allowed his wife to die, utilizing a series of complicated Rube Goldberg devices meant to mimic the biblical plagues. The film is ultra-stylish, and it maintains a pretty fun tone throughout, with an acidic sense of humor befitting the grand guignol style. Avoid the sequel, which is for completists only.

Laura: Price only plays a supporting character in this film, a top-notch film noir from Otto Preminger, but it's interesting to see him in a non menacing role. Aside from suave, menacing characters, Price excelled at sheltered, dandyish blue-bloods, which is what he plays in Laura, as the fiance of a murdered advertising executive. The film is all about police detective Mark McPherson investigating the death of Laura Hunt, and slowly falling in love with the woman the more he learns about her, but Price steals the show in every scene he's in.

The Baron of Arizona: A fatally flawed film, Samuel Fuller's second as director, The Baron of Arizona features a great performance from Vincent Price in the lead. The story(very loosely based on true events) is interesting, but the film repeatedly shows AND tells through a completely unnecessary voice over. Though the film ultimately fails, it has a standout performance and a couple great scenes to recommend it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Movie of the Day: Lake Mungo & Zombies of Mass Destruction

2010 marks the fourth year in the After Dark Horrorfest, an annual collection of 8 independently produced horror films grouped together to give them a higher profile. Previous years have seen the horrorfest in nationwide theatrical release, but these days the films usually get a week long release in one theatre and a quick DVD turnaround. In theory I love the idea of the ADHF; an attempt to give 8 struggling indie film-makers per year some well deserved recognition. In execution, though, the films leave much to be desired. Horror has long been the genre of choice for up-and-coming directors looking to make an impression; Sam Raimi, James Cameron, Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro and Jonathan Demme all got their start with low-budget horror or exploitation productions. The problem with ADHF is that while their motivations may be honest, the enterprise is ruled by economics. This leads them to pick movies that mimic or aspire to fit in with the big budgeted stuff Hollywood is putting out these days, so the lineup is usually a mixture of bland Saw knockoffs or bland zombie films. And yet I keep watching them, or at least a couple of them, every year, because you never know when you might stumble across the next John Carpenter.

But that act of slogging through the crap to get to the good stuff CAN be hellish. Most of my friends have given up entirely on the series, and these days I usually just pick and choose which films I watch(for the first couple years I tried to watch each of them). I have been uniformly disappointed by each entry in the series, with the exception of From Within, and even that film could only really be called successful when graded on a curve with the rest of that series. A few of my friends quite enjoyed Mulberry Street, but I felt that outside of the clever Were-Rat premise, the film was a fairly typical(and oddly humorless) zombie film. So this year, with 8 new films to choose from, I read a few brief rundowns and picked two of the most promising titles; Zombies of Mass Destruction and Lake Mungo.

It's clear that the makers of Zombies of Mass Destruction took most of the right lessons from Romero's zombie epics; a focus on flawed and disparate individuals standing against a zombie horde that can be seen as a metaphor for any number of perceived social ills, and a fairly healthy dose of gallows humor. I can not stress enough how much a little bit of humor can elevate a shitty zombie film. In this film, the zombies are a physical manifestation of the xenophobia and religious fervor that swept America during the darkest points of the Bush years, as a small secluded community is overrun by the walking dead. With a pretty healthy sense of humor, and a target ripe for satire, the writers(Ramon Isao and Kevin Hamedani, who also directed) drop the ball with their sense of timing. A gag that could have been hilarious, as when the rural pastor awkwardly and cheerfully welcomes his congregation to the apocalypse and is met by sporadic but ecstatic applause, isn't even chuckleworthy because of it's indifferent presentation. And this problem doesn't just affect the humor, but the horror and action scenes as well. There's no real visual style other than 'put camera here, lets get it on film, and go home.' Those problems don't always have to kill a film. Plenty of borderline inept films are much more enjoyable than ZOMD turned out to be, but in this case the slapdash execution smothers any of the modestly good ideas.

The second of this years ADHF films I rented was Lake Mungo, which isn't a title that really grabs your attention. To call Lake Mungo the best film of the entire ADHF run would be faint praise indeed, since those films can most generously be called 'aggressively mediocre.' But against all expectations, Lake Mungo turned out to not only be a good film, but maybe even a great one(I only say 'maybe' because I am easily swayed by the manner and circumstances in which I watch a movie, and this one was viewed in a manner very conducive to my enjoyment of creepy and sad entertainment)

Lake Mungo is an Australian film, fashioned like a modern documentary, chronicling what one family goes through when the eldest daughter drowns. Shortly after her death, the teenage girl begins popping up in the background of photos and videos taken at places she used to frequent, and her family begins investigating the possibility that their daughter may be trying to communicate with them. The film mainly avoids comparisons to the Blair Witch Project by not acting as sensationalistic 'found footage', but as an actual documentary you would see on the Discovery Channel, or PBS, complete with unseen interviewers and interviews with friends and neighbors. This of course means the film never becomes very scary; there are no moments in which you're filled with tension or nail biting fear. What the film has instead is tons of creepy atmosphere, and a mournful sadness that you rarely find in genre films of this nature. It's the sadness that gets you, as the unbearable loneliness of the family(and the dead daughter) grows and crystallizes over the course of the film. Lake Mungo is a bit like Twin Peaks rendered into a ghost story, with a family's investigations into their daughter's secret life revealing mysteries they might wish they didn't know. By the end, the point isn't to scare the audience, but to show what happens when the living(and dead) refuse to let go of each other.

I've just read that both films are due to be remade for a higher budget 2011 release. In the case of Zombies of Mass Destruction I think this might be beneficial, but a big budget remake of Lake Mungo will most likely ruin what made that film so special, turning a gentle little film into a hyperbolic Paranormal Activity