Sunday, February 28, 2010
I’m not going to address the film as a whole as my writing partner Chris has already posted a fantastic review which you can find by clicking here. While it might take another viewing or two to see if it makes the yearly top ten, I admit I found the film engaging. In fact, I’d say I found it more so than Chris. While I have one large problem with the storytelling technique that I’ll address in another post, I thought the film mirrors some of the social and political issues of our times. The point of this post is to provide a counterargument to this bit of Chris’ take on the film:
Despite my being entertained, it rang a little superficial. Pretty, but ultimately hollow. I’m not a snob, I swear. I know someone is going to suggest sitting back and just soaking in a good “popcorn” flick, but dammit, I’m tired of everything apologetically being swept away like that.
When Chris talks about Romero’s original The Crazies, he’s spot on that the film provides a snapshot of turbulent times. The country had been rocked by the assassination of Kennedy brothers and Dr. King the previous decade and Vietnam was coming to its head. Traumatized soldiers were returning home from the battlefield only to find they had been demonized by the American public and abandoned by the VA. Watergate blew the lid of Nixon’s administration rife with secrecy and corruption. Yet an undercurrent of humor ran through the film, as Romero and his generation still had a sense of their brand of protest would result in social upheaval. There was a sense that for the first time in decades, the country was “waking up” from a decades long slumber and the mirage of America as a pure beacon was finally wiped away
Far from being a mindless popcorn flick, thirty years later, the updated Crazies provide a snapshot of our own times. Ultimately this new version does papa Romero proud by offering a cold look at climate of an unchecked military with omnipresent surveillance capabilities while wrapping it in the mass-friendly guise of a B-movie popcorn flick.
The “eye in the sky” satellite shots that bookend the film offer a look at the Patriot Act at its worst. There is a sense that no matter which way our heroes turn, they’ll never truly be out from under the watchful eye of the government exterminators. As a people, we’ve willingly accepted intrusion into our personal lives without thinking about the costs. The film also demonstrates how easily a town’s communication can be cut off from the outside world-how phones and internet and texts can be instantly unplugged. In the film’s epilogue during the credits, it cryptically shows how easy it is to spin a story for consumption for the people.
The true threat in the film comes in the form of the military presence that caused the outbreak, and ultimately decides on extermination as the only cure. While the original film does paint a negative view of the invading army, it is mostly critiquing its competence rather than its intent. In the update, the military is surgical in its actions, and clinical in its ability to remove the human element out of decision making process. It’s no accident that you rarely glimpse a face behind the gasmasks of the task force. Anyone not cooperating is immediately riddled with bullets and torched. When the film finally gives us an authority figure, his response to the crisis is a callous “it was an accident, and you and you’re people are ultimately expendable and acceptable casualties”. Late in the film we discover a chilling example of the depths the agency will go through t cover up their actions. They ultimately see no difference between the afflicted and the healthy.
As it is, The Crazies is one of the most cynical, cold films you will see this year. Determined not go out on a high note, the film’s closing moments pull the carpet out from under the illusion of escape. Once again, the ever present threat of surveillance shows that a new day doesn’t bring the chance to rebuild, it just drops our characters unknowingly back to square one. The end of the film fits the cynical, mistrusting mood of our times.
That’s not to say you can’t go in and simply enjoy a movie where ordinary folks turn nutso and smash pitchforks through their neighbor’s spines. You have plenty of that action as well (though if you want to make the case that the crazies of the film are an allegory for the right wing loons of the Tea Party movement, I won’t stop you). All I’m suggesting is don’t sell the social commentary short just ebecause its not coming from Uncle George.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
The Crazies (2010)
Directed by: Breck Eisner
Written by: Scott Kosar & Ray Wright
WARNING: There May Be Some Spoilers in Here AND You Will Probably Hate Me
Soaked from being out in near hurricane conditions, I just got back from a sneak peak at Breck Eisner’s update of The Crazies. Knowing I'd be writing a review later, I went in saying to myself that I'd try very hard not to think about the original and just relax. It's no secret that I have a strong love for George Romero and his work on the source material, and I was hoping the remake would capitalize on some admitted shortcomings of his low budget effort. Also in attendance were my buds Andre Dumas over at The Horror Digest, Boston food blogger extraordinaire Ryan Agate at I Am Always Broke, and the very patient Lizz who put up with our shit like a trooper. Luckily, we spent some time talking about my undying love for the Gilmore Girls and cartoons which distracted me from overthinking and my own rising expectations. Will this review be nitpicky? Definitely. But that’s only because I CARE.
Despite the constant remake moaning and groaning (my own among the loudest), I do concede that some good ones have been made. Yes, it is possible. The original is certainly ripe for re-imagining, I’ll give you that. The problem with most of the current crop of remakes is that instead of updating the greats with integrity intact, they swap the really good stuff for explosions, expensive special effects, and pretty actors. I’m not a total snob and I can appreciate a little dumb action and comedy. I liked Zombieland and Drag Me to Hell for goodness sake. The problem sometimes is the arena in which horror filmmakers choose to throw down. The two I mentioned didn’t set themselves up to be great critiques of society or anything at all other than 90 minutes of fun. However, interviews, articles, and trailers for this new version of The Crazies lead me to believe they were interested in pursuing loftier themes and creating real characters we could care about, even though with obvious changes to accommodate today’s audiences.
The question remains: Is The Crazies one of the good ones? Well, yes and no. To be fair, it was a competently made film overall, and I didn’t feel bored until the last 15 minutes or so. Unfortunately, they spent more time on the cosmetics, and not enough on the stuff that really gives me goose pimples. Despite my being entertained, it rang a little superficial. Pretty, but ultimately hollow. I’m not a snob, I swear. I know someone is going to suggest sitting back and just soaking in a good “popcorn” flick, but dammit, I’m tired of everything apologetically being swept away like that. I refuse to make apologies.
I'll rehash the story a bit so you know the context in which I'll make my points. When the townsfolk of Ogden Marsh, Iowa start exhibiting strange and violent behavior, the local sheriff David Dutton’s (Timothy Olyphant) investigation leads him to a mysterious plane carcass in the nearby marshes. Connecting the crash to the marsh’s run into the town’s water supply, he suspects a toxin has leaked into the drinking water. He hopes to warn everyone of the potential threat, but is thwarted first by the mayor, and then later by a military presence forcefully taking over the town. When it becomes clear they aren't interested in providing answers, he, along with his deputy, his wife who is also the town doctor, and a young girl decide to flee. Together they face an outbreak of infected people on an epidemic scale. Neither the town leadership, nor the military are equipped to face the rampant and sudden nature of the virus.
I guess my trouble is that leaving the film, I ended up having more criticisms than good things to say. I don't like that. I could spend a lot of time picking this apart, but it goes against my opening statement where I said I'd try not to think about the original. In that regard, let me first give a little positive praise:
The acting is generally pretty solid, and in particular, Timothy Olyphant does a pretty good job as Sheriff Dutton. I did have to suspend disbelief when he got all action hero on some crazies and I was certain there’d be a plot point revealing he was a former FBI agent or something. Now I realize that adrenaline can make someone do crazy things, but maybe the choreography could have been a little sloppier. For once I’d like to see characters not so sure of themselves in these types of situations. Sure, he’s had his sheriff training and experience, but I doubt that culminates in the sort of moves he pulls off. Crap, I turned that into a negative thing. Timothy Olyphant is good and very charismatic. I liked him in this role, I really did. Rahda Mitchell, as well, did a solid job of portraying a strong female lead displaying dismay and fear, but also a reasonable toughness.
There are definitely some chilling scenes, particularly some unique moments in a hospital with townsfolk terrifyingly strapped to tables, creative use of a knife and bonesaw, and also a tense scene in a car wash. That’s right, a freaking car wash. Something about the spinning and flapping mechanisms was really disorienting and creepy. Once I accepted that things were going to be outrageous, it helped. There is no sublety in this movie, and I guess that’s what people wanted because the crowd was clapping and hollering. Glad they had a good time! I certainly laughed in all the intended places.
I guess my main complaint is that as opposed to Romero’s version, the new movie really dehumanizes the military personnel, as well as the “crazies” themselves. I never quite got the sense that they were real people living in a real town. One thing I really loved about the original is seeing all these military folk stationed around post offices, schools and grocery stores. It was very chilling and so plausible. In this new version, most everyone is reduced to fodder for the main group to kill in their many shootouts and showdowns. There are a few people scattered about that we’re supposed to cry about, but I just didn’t feel much for them. Everything seems to exist as plot points to get us to the next scene of carnage. Standard operating procedure these days, I guess.
One last thing that bugged me: They really hammered the bottled water thing, and some sponsor seemed to be saying “Trust us. We are your saviors, the bottled water companies. We will save you from your icky and self-controlled city water that is making you sick. Praise us as we spread our gigantic Dasani (plug) or Aquafina (plug plug) bottles throughout your fair city”. Come on, guys. Really? I’m not the only one who caught that.
To end this review, I did mostly enjoy this. Maybe with a tiny bit more time spent on set up, this could have completely won me over. If everything is supposed to be idyllic, I want it to feel idyllic. That way when the raging id’s rise up and manifest in the crazies (which is how I picture it), it is that much more terrifying. The “crazy” should be a manifestation of the fears and insecurities people are hiding in their cheery exteriors. That’s why this new version should have been set in the fictional town of Star’s Hollow where we find my beloved heroines Lorelei and Rory Gilmore. Real heavy problems don’t appear on the surface, but that ever rising rage is hard to keep down when the Trixie neurotoxin is in your soda down at Dosey’s Candy Shop.
THE CRAZIES TRAILER
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
THE CRAZIES (A.K.A. Code Name: Trixie) (1973)
Written & Directed by: George A. Romero
Why are the good people dying?
A few weeks ago I put out the call for fellow members of the horror community to (re)watch and comment on George Romero’s 1973 military/infection horror film The Crazies. I had just recently revisited it myself and found new love blossoming for the overlooked, flawed, but ultimately brilliant and important film. I’ve been letting my own thoughts percolate, and in light of the upcoming remake, thought it would be nice to share all of our insights and reactions. It’s a damn shame that a large number of people have ignored this film, and will probably continue to do so even after the prompting of a remake. In this post, I’d like to lay out my reasons why this film, and the work of George Romero in general, is very important and even crucial viewing.
Before I share my thoughts, I’d like to direct your attention to these wonderful posts submitted by some great horror writers in the blogosphere:
Andre Dumas’ review at The Horror Digest
Dod March’s review at WGON Helicopter
Theron Neel’s post at Slammed & Damned
Thank you guys very much for submitting your reviews and articles! I had a great time reading them and I respect your individual insights.
Now my part of the deal:
George Romero is most often credited with establishing what we understand as the modern zombie horror film. What's often overlooked is the fact that Mr. Romero is responsible for something a bit more sinister and subversive. With 1968's Night of the Living Dead, and then a bit later with 1973's The Crazies, Romero succeeded in bringing horror home. Meaning, horror stories were previously set in exotic foreign lands, confined to faraway castles, villages and other locations out of range of average American life. Not to mention the fact that many horror films also took place in time periods very far removed from modern concerns. There was always a comfortable distance between the horror on screen and the audience. With Romero, all of that would change, and this relative safety would be shattered.
The turbulent 1960’s brought about the oft spoken “death of innocence”, a decade in which the naïve optimism of the 50’s was swept away by the bitter pill of truth vending from the nightly news. Journalists armed with smaller hand-held cameras, portable sound recorders and utilizing a documentary approach to their craft brought back startling images of the Vietnam War. The age of the propagandized newsreel was officially at an end. Those terrifying images combined with those of the brutal Civil Rights struggle, the subsequent tragic assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, the Watergate expose of Nixon, resulted in undeniable change in the collective American psyche, and shattered much of the conventional history and worldview shared by the vast majority. The veritable wool had been pulled from the collective national eyes.
Romero capitalized very well on this new trend by embracing the technology, as well as the pursuing truth in the form of satire. With all the tragic events looming heavily in the background, he took a controversial approach to film and storytelling. By utilizing the horror format, he adopted an approach that explored the provocative and chilling phrase, "the chickens have come home to roost". In Night of the Living Dead, the recently undead may represent the victims of brutal and exploitative U.S. policy abroad. In The Crazies, America is faced with its own returning vets trying to reintegrate into society, as well as those affected by other massive tumultuous changes in our culture and society.
Romero would employ a lot of hand-held work in his early films, clearly due to the mobility and cheaper cost, but also to enhance the film experience by increasing the sense of urgency. He makes this point by taking very recognizable symbols of the U.S. like a giant stars and stripes in the opening shots of NOTLD, or military personnel stationed outside of post offices and schools in The Crazies. Seeing horror play out on our own soil was something a lot of people weren’t prepared to face.
(We’re here for your own good.)
The Crazies is the story of what happens to the small town of Evans, Pennsylvania when a neurotoxin, dubbed "Trixie", is introduced into the town’s water supply. Whether it was an accident, or if Evans is a testing ground for a biological weapon, is never made clear. What is clear is that the inhabitants have started displaying bizarre and violent behavior. Figuring out who is affected is not the only test military and police, but also the realization that it could be manifesting within their own ranks. This realistic ambiguity is one of many terrifying layers Romero adds to the story. When the military arrives with a squad of scientists, the real horror of martial law is explored with startling images, rich characterization, and plausible situations. We follow a group of friends as they attempt to flee the quarantined and militarized city.
(Out of one insane violent jungle into another.)
(Who is helping who here?)
Even from the beginning of the film, Romero takes us out of his own fantastic realm he created in NOTLD. Two children are playing “scare” games in the dark, only to be shaken by the acts of a very real, very human monster. Off the bat, it’s a statement that there are no zombies or other fantasy creatures to be found. These are very real people, the kind you see every day in line at the grocery store, checking out books at the library, or serving you at a restaurant. Everyone appears normal on the outside. It’s all for a very plausible and frightening scenario because you never know who trust. Most of the events take place in broad daylight in the most mundane places. Violence and terror strikes anywhere, but it’s by our own hand, not the communists or terrorists.
Here’s a clip of the film intro:
The Crazies owes a debt to the works of Franz Kafka, as characters try to navigate the impenetrable red tape of bureaucracy in the hopes of finding answers. Military personnel can’t make decisions without checking with the “higher ups”. We can conjure up the appropriate phrase “the left hand never knows what the right is doing” because no one seems to know anything. In the meantime houses are looted, people are imprisoned, and innocent people get killed. Clearly, the leadership is ineffective, and Evans stands in as a microcosm of the country as a whole. This is the true loss of control explored by Romero, using the symbolism and irony for which he’s known.
Something I really appreciate in Romero’s film is the fact that all categories of “crazy” are represented. Unlike the remake which looks to create a mutated or zombie-fied crazed look of infected people, you never really know who to suspect or expect in Romero's film. Some of the typical types of madness one might encounter are shown in completely plausible human portrayals: There's crazy as the result of religion (The Priest’s immolation), old age (the little old lady killing with knitting needles), or returning traumatized vets (the unhinged and paranoid Clank). These are characters you think might be affected by Trixie because they've each performed some outrageous behaviors. But could their psychosis be the result of something even more deep-seeded and less overt, less easy to explain than a toxin? Perhaps the penetrating forces of ideology, trauma, senility, damage from contaminated food, environmental degradation are all factors that had influence even before scientists developed "Trixie". What if Trixie never existed at all and the weapon was hysteria itself? Now that is truly terrifying. The question permeates: are any of these characters crazy from Trixie, or has the stress of the situation combined with a contagious form of hysteria forced them to cope by retreating into a madness within? Are they crazy at all? Again, a stunning ambiguity that leads one to question one’s own self in regard to behavior and reactions. Am I really in control of myself?
(Is self-preservation crazy?)
The Crazies raises as many questions as it answers, and that is the reason it should not be overlooked. While it may seem dated aesthetically and even a bit thematically, I feel it is still relevant today for a number of reasons. Perhaps the route of the update will lose a lot of the more overdone commentary in lieu of statements on modern technology, food production, stress of the tanked economy, and/or the ongoing warfare in the Middle East and its effects on military personnel. Regardless, the impetus for socially-conscious horror filmmaking was set by the master - Mr. George A. Romero.
THE CRAZIES TRAILER
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
A few months ago I entered a contest at Z for Zombies, a great horror blog run by talented artist Zach Shildwachter. Zach also runs Awkward Creations, in which he chronicles his art, makeup effects projects, and other work he does. Well, guess what? I won! Not only that, but the prize was custom art of my choosing made especially by Zach! In fact, right now he's running another sweet contest to commemorate his 200th post. Good work, buddy! So, get over there immediately and enter so you don't miss out!
Zach was running a contest in which to enter, you merely had to a place a recognizable quote from a famous movie. They weren't even all horror movies, so anyone outside of the genre could participate. I had become a fan of Zach's work through Awkward Creations, and thought this was a great prize. I'd been following Zach's blog for a while, and we'd had a few pleasant exchanges commenting on his posts. I entered guessing a line I remembered from Die Hard. Don't fuck with my Die Hard knowledge!
A few weeks later, Zach informed me that I had won. I was pretty excited, and immediately started thinking about the theme of my custom made art. I had been thinking about Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, and I wondered what it'd be like to have some iconic figures from horror thrust into this tense situation. My choices for characters were George Romero, John Carpenter, and Tobe Hooper. I thought if these three were on the lifeboat with little hope for rescue, who would be the most ruthless.
After a few communications via email with Zach, it seemed like he was cool with my concept. He gave me a little warning that it might take a little time, but I would eventually get it. I totally understood the time it takes to create when juggling a lot of other responsibilities, so it was totally fine with me.
Cut to: A few days ago I received my art and was so blown away by Zach's creativity, attention to detail, and love put into the art he sent. I just wanted to use this forum to show you what Zach made for me and also make more people aware of this remarkable artist and human. Below I've chronicled everything that Zach sent me (nearly all found and re-cycled materials, btw), as well a few stories behind some extra goodies he threw in.
First of all...
...this is the wonderful hand-drawn depiction of the big three horror guys. You'll notice they aren't in a lifeboat...yet. I think Zach really captured the essence of them and still retained his own artistic flair.
A Better Look
As part of the overall concept, Zach also made this very cool plaster lifeboat, complete with rowing paddles. In order to tie it all together, there is a hook on the picture frame from which this piece can be attached. So cool!
Not only that, but on the back of the lifeboat is something I nearly missed the first time looking. Yes, that is the famous iconic imprint of Mr. Alfred Hitchcock's visage, the real inspiration behind the concept!
(The Master of Suspense)
Not content to stop there, Zach also hand-wrote me a gracious note outlining the project from soup to nuts, explaining what materials were used and how he used them.
I also found a "security" badge, and was a little confused until Zach told me it was from a movie shoot he worked on in which he met Angelina Jolie. He had accidentally been given the security badge by mistake, but made good and fully legal use of it, I'm sure.
Finally, I received this excellent lobby card from the wonderful film I Sell the Dead. Apparently Zach had done some work on this film which actually made my top eleven horror films of 2009 list. The lobby card was an old design that was ditched before the makers decided on an EC comics influence. I'm extremely pleased to have this as part of my collection.
The Badge and Lobby Card
Even the packaging was art, and I might use it in a stop-motion animated short!
Like I said, you better head over to Z for Zombies and enter!
Monday, February 22, 2010
Dacre Stoker (with Ian Holt)
Link to Amazon for Purchase
Billed as the only authentic sequel to Bram Stoker’s masterpiece, “Dracula the Undead” hails from the pen of one of Bram’s own descendents, along with assistance from Ian Holt. The book is entertaining to a point, but disregards what made the original a time honored classic.
Set twenty five years after the events of Stoker’s work, Undead does an admirable job of depicting how the tragic and horrific encounter with Dracula has left each of the key participants scarred. Rather than painting a portrait of “and they lived happily ever after”, Undead demonstrate the lingering and damaging effects of the group’s encounter with Dracula. Dr. Jack Seward has become a barely functioning morphine addict, stripped of his prestige and medical license. Arthur Holmwood has withdrawn from his former social circle, bitter over the loss of his true love Lucy. Mina Harker has not aged a day since her blood mingled with Dracula’s and her youthful appearance serves as a reminder of her husband Jonathan’s own failures and inadequacies. He harbors hatred and resentment towards her and has devolved into an alcoholic that relies on the company of prostitutes to mask his sorrows. Caught in between them is their son Quincey, a young man desperate for the stage, but under his father’s thumb to study law at the Sorbonne.
Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt forgo the original work’s narrative style. Instead of unfolding through journal entries, the new work takes on a more blunt action movie aesthetic. It has more in common with modern cinematic stories such as Dracula 2000 than the original gothic tale. Every scene seems intent on upstaging the previous one with regards to placing its characters in near inescapable mortal peril or careening through action set pieces. The brooding, nightmarish tone of the original has been lost in translation.
Where the novel fails is in its portrayal of Dracula. While certain interpretations of Dracula have gone on to make him more sympathetic at times, none have completely dropped his ultimately evil nature and desires. This new novel completely rewrites the events of the original work by portraying the Count as a misunderstood hero that attempted to assist Van Helsing and others in destroying the true vampiric menace-Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Recasting Dracula as a misunderstood hero is a colossal misstep that attempts to fix a problem that never existed. One of the traits that made Dracula such an endearing figure was his ability to seemingly orchestrate events from behind the scenes. His handiwork seemed to spawn continents. In this new work, the chess master has been replaced by an aged warrior, too quick to rush into battle despite odds stacked against him.
There’s also too much teen-inspired romance at times. The Count gets so moon eyed over Mina at times I thought there’d be descriptions of how he sparkled.
While the book has its moments as a bedside page turner, anyone looking for a spiritual successor to Stoker’s original novel should read Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Like Stoker’s original work, the novel unfolds through journals, letters and memoirs as three generations hunt for Dracula’s tomb. Kostova superbly blends the fictional vampire lore with the historical menace of Vlad Tepes. The result is a far more terrifying work, where the implied presence of Dracula (he doesn’t show up in earnest until well into the third act) invokes true fear and terror.
I don’t mean to be too harsh on this new follow up. Again, as a modern story, written for today’s ADD addled generation, it’s a fine enough action novel-something that’d be a perfect read for a beach holiday. In reading about Mr. Dacre Stoker’s background I learned he was previously a track and field coach. The pacing of this new novel suggests he specialized in the 100 meter sprint, and not in the more deliberate pacing of a long distance runner.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Federal marshal Teddy Daniels leaves for Shutter Island, home of an institute for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous female inmate. Alongside his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels finds his investigation stonewalled by the heads of the asylum Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sydow). As a hurricane strands the marshals on the island and knocks out communication with the mainland, events take a turn for the sinister. The missing patient case seems inconsequential as questions surrounding the facility pile up. A deeper conspiracy involving unauthorized patient experimentation begins to unfold, involving Nazi schemes and HUAC. Daniels paranoia runs deeper as he explores the island, and it’s revealed he didn’t come to the island accidentally: He’s searching for the inmate responsible for starting the fire that murdered his beloved wife Dolores (Michelle Williams).
Scorsese brings out “A” game in his cast. While the partnership may not reach the lofty heights of his work with DeNiro, there’s no denying his films bring out the best in Dicaprio. Kingsley brilliantly job straddles the line between concerned doctor and a man hiding a more sinister agenda. After cringing through Anthony Hopkins scene chewing turn in The Wolfman, Kingsley's understated performance was a breath of fresh air. Elias Koteas and Jackie Earle Haley have brief supporting roles as inmates, but make fantastic use of limited screen time. Koteas appears as the disfigured firebug Dicaprio is chasing down and is chilling as a just barely in control lunatic. Haley plays a madman locked up in the restricted ward who may have key information regarding the marshal’s mission, or he may just be in need of electroshock therapy. Michelle Williams steals every scene she appears in as Ted’s dead wife. She only appears in flashback and dream form, and she’s simply achingly beautiful and vulnerable.
While not a horror movie per se, Scorsese uses genre tropes and imagery to create a haunting, suspense filled atmosphere. From the early moments of the film when the island appears out of a heavy fog, with waves futilely crashing up against the barren cliffs, one gets the sense this is a foreboding and dangerous location. Scorsese also employs nightmarish flashbacks as Daniels psyche begins to deteriorate. He’s haunted by memories of liberating Dachau in WWII. We see visions of bodies piled outside of dumpsters, their emaciated forms frozen stiff by cold. While it may not compare with the money shot in Goodfellas, the tracing scene where enraged GI’s unload their rifles on the surrendered German guards is shocking in its brutality. Set in the mid-50’s, the film evokes the paranoia prevalent in films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Scorsese makes excellent use of the abandoned facilities where he filmed. At times the film evokes memories of the claustrophobic Danvers State Mental Institute used in Session 9. At other times, Hammer Horror hounds will nod their heads in appreciation of the gothic and gloomy environments (The cliff paths and lighthouse reminded me he outdoor locales of Wicker Man). In the film’s best visual sequence Dicaprio makes his way down the pitch black confines of a sealed off lunatic ward with only minimal illumination provided by a flickering matchstick. The walls seem to collapse in around him as the wails of the damned cry out and press up against him in the darkness. Lightning bathes statues and structures in a sinister light. The storm snaps massive branches off trees and strews them around an old cemetery like discarded limbs.
Michelle Williams provides some of the most haunting images in the film. The shot of DiCaprio embracing her in a dream while blood pours from her stomach, staining her dress just before she dissolves to ash is both beautiful and terrifying.
It’s difficult to talk about Shutter Island without revealing too much of the third acts “twist”. My own opinion is Scorsese never seeks to deceive the audience with sleight of hand parlor tricks and red herrings. Instead, Scorsese seems to be guiding his audience towards the inevitable conclusion, allowing most people to catch it about midway through the film. The film is littered with clues towards the final reveal. surrounds Scorsese employs uncomfortable visual angles and conflicting edits to imply the mental deterioration and increasing paranoia of DiCaprios agent (Brian Collins of Horror Movie a Day does a better job of describing these techniques in his review of the film). When the events of what truly led Daniels to the island are laid out, the film shifts its tone from that of mystery and suspense to that of a psychological examination of a person’s breaking point before madness takes hold.
I have no problem admitting I have a boner for Martin Scorsese movies. As far as I’m concerned, we should just build a room for him in the Smithsonian where he can live and tourists can gape at a living treasure. It’s great to see him turn his eye toward a horror film for grownups-that’s a section of the genre sorely lacking as of late. Shutter Island is the type of film that will benefit from multiple viewings just to watch the subtle ways the story reveals itself.
Mike and I spent some time deliberating all the wonderful entries, and after some playful insults, a pillow fight, a drinking contest, gigantic sumo suit wrestling, crying, and a friendly game of darts, we both feel we've made the right decision.
Thanks to all the other contest entrants. All of them were great, and we did have a very difficult choosing one. We truly appreciate you donating your time and hard work to helping us out.
It was a really difficult choice. All of the banner enteries were gorgeously evil. At some point soon we may post all of them along with contact info for anyone looking to hook up with other graphic artists.
In the end, the look of the font as well as the screaming lady put the banner we chose over the top.
Thanks again to everyone that participated and congrats Fred!
Saturday, February 20, 2010
The Horror Digest's Andre Dumas and I Pick our Dream Cast for the Hellraiser Remake
A remake of Clive Barker’s twisted 1987 hit film adaptation of Hellraiser looms on the horizon. Yes, I know, ANOTHER post about ANOTHER remake. But you know what? Screw it! There’s no reason we can't have a little fun with it and make a potentially bad thing into something awesome. That’s why after a completely professional conversation via gchat with a fellow horror colleague, the wonderful Andre Dumas over at The Horror Digest , or what I call The ‘Gest, we decided to do our own fantasy casting. This is our own riff on a similar article from a certain big dog horror site. We thought we could go one better, but you can decide for yourself if we succeeded.
I admit that Andre humiliated me with her rapid fire and spot on suggestions while I trailed behind like a slug with my paltry entries. My celebrity knowledge sucks and Andre didn’t hesitate to mop up the floor with me. However, it was a good learning experience, and certainly a ton of fun working out the logistics with Andre. Why the hell she isn’t a damn casting agent I’ll never know! The suffering someone should receive for that would be legendary…EVEN IN HELL.
There’s a twist here, though! You see, we went a step further. Not only did we pick our top celebs for the spot, but we also chose a corresponding Lost character for each part. Why Lost? Well, why not? It hasn’t been disproven that the Island isn’t Hell, right? So, there! It makes sense, right?
Anyway, go here to read our choices and my half-assed reasons why I made them: Andre and Chris Pick Hellraiser Cast (w/Lost Bonus)
Thursday, February 18, 2010
As a heads up, you may need to double click the video, or else you’ll miss some action on the right hand side of the screen.
The first “He Dies at The End” may contain spoilers in its title. An office drone burning the midnight oil decides to take a break by partaking in an online survey that boasts it can predict exactly how one will die. The questions start innocuously enough, but pretty soon it becomes apparent that someone has their eye on the worker bee.
The second film had me laughing my ass off at the end. The third runner up in a Jesus Christ lookalike contest squats out a giant egg one night while having a relaxing bath. Naturally, he takes the egg to the pub with him. What will happen when the egg starts to move? What horrific hell spawn will be unleashed on the world/ Will indie rock Jesus ever get to finish his pint? These are the questions “Hatch” hopes to answer.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I’m getting ready to see John Waters in person tomorrow night. He’ll be in town at the Institute of Contemporary Art in downtown Boston. I’m a little bummed because not a single theater is showing any of his films. In retaliation, I’m taking the day off of work and having a mini marathon before the captain of kitsch arrives to make me pee my pants with laughter.
Making a list of movies to watch reminded me of a few last minute updates I’d like to post to remind you kind folks of a few things going on:
There are still a few days left in our ”Design Our Banner” Contest. We’ve received a lot of really good entries, so keep ‘em comin’! Remember, the deadline is Midnight on Friday, February 19. The prizes are a one year subscription to Horror Hound and a gift certificate to Fright Rags.
I’m putting the finishing touches on my article about George Romero’s The Crazies. If you remember, I invited fellow bloggers, fans, and haters alike to post their own, send me a link, and I’ll link them over here to share with our readers. I’ve gotten some really great pieces so far, and would love more! To find out more, see my post here.
If you haven’t heard it enough already, we’re holding our next All Things Horror Presents screening on Wednesday, March 3, 7 pm at the Somerville Theater. Not only are we showing some great films you won’t see anywhere else, but we also do trivia contests and Mike and I will often have slap and tickle fights or randomly give audience members raspberries on the tummy. Why would you ever want to miss that?
Mike and I have been asked by John Cozzoli over at the wonderful site Zombos Closet of Horror to submit profiles for his weekly “Meet the Bloggers” series. We both consider this a nice honor and have a lot of respect for John and the work he does over at Zombos Closet!
Monday, February 15, 2010
Pig Hunt (2008)
Directed by: James Issac
Written by: Robert Mailer Anderson & Zack Anderson
Death Walks on All Fours
Let me start this out by reminding Boston area horror fans that Mike and I are screening Pig Hunt on Wednesday, March 3 as part of our ongoing film series. That in no way means this is a biased review. I intend to be totally honest, even at the risk of alienating potential paying patrons. That said, I LOVED THIS FREAKING MOVIE! If you see only one action-packed, gory, funny, socially-conscious, totally awesome killer boar movie this year, please make sure it's this one.
I believe the makers of Pig Hunt did what all aspiring filmmakers should do - throw caution to the wind and just make the baddest ass movie possible. They definitely went for broke and in the process created an action-packed gore-fest with a lot of laughs, buckets of blood, and even a bit of heart. I must admit, going in with the synopsis in mind, I was prepared for a dismal juvenile experience. I mean, how many damn films set in the woods with rampaging rednecks do we really need at this point? I realize it's easy, cheap and marketable, but enough already with the cardboard thin stories and characters. I was pleasantly surprised when Pig Hunt hooked me within the first 10 minutes with better-than-average characterization, some witty dialogue, and pacing that kept the action going, but also let me gain a sense of place. In fact, Pig Hunt harkens back to a fun time in horror without me feeling the need to call it a "throwback". It really is its own thing despite some familiar sounding ingredients.
(You get the snout, the tail, the whole damn thing)
With some nods to another excellent killer boar film Razorback (1984), the film's premise follows John Hickman (Travis Aaron Wade) and a group of friends off on a hunting trip from L.A. to John's deceased uncle's cabin in the sticks where John grew up. John, his girlfriend Brooks (Tina Huang), and buddies Ben, Wayne and Quincy (Howard Johnson, Jr, Rajiv Shah, and Trevor Bullock) are all eager to get out of the volatile city and bask in nature, do some drinking, maybe shoot an animal. Their goal is to re-assert a forgotten manhood, and even though Ben is wary of Brooks' presence, he soon appreciates her toughness when the need arises. The group meet up with some grimy redneck jackasses from John's past, and John agrees to let them tag along despite his better judgement. He believes keeping them close is probably better than having them lurking about unchecked. The group also encounter Cimi (Cimi Ahluwalia), leader of a cult-like hippie commune of boar worshippers. A chain of events sets the group against bloodthirsty rednecks while a legendary monster boar stalks them in the deep woods.
With such a wide range of characters and lots of action sequences, it would be very easy for a film like this to get out of control. While there are definitely some spastic moments, even frantic, everything remains very controlled for the most part. The action sequences are shot very well with much less quick cut editing we've grown to expect from an action-oriented film. Though many of the lesser characters are rendered stereotypically, there is a nice triumph of character over caricature in most of the leads. John is a former soldier who distrusts the government. He is tough, yet vulnerable. Ben is an inner city black man who can't shoot a gun for shit. Wayne appears to be of Indian descent, but doesn't display any of the stereotypical qualities such as a funny accent. Brooks is sharp-shooting and tough-as-nails, giving her an assertive sexiness without being reduced to mere eye candy.
(Face to face with the other, deadlier white meat)
Opting for practical effects over CGI, the boar is quite an impressive monster. Taking a less-is-more route until the final moments really worked in creating tension and surprise. We only catch glimpses of the boar in the earlier moments, much like the great white shark in Jaws. The film is so continually inventive in its displays of action and gruesome special effects that you aren't constantly hoping the boar will appear. There is so much going on the boar is sometimes forgotten as part of the equation. However, that only heightens the impact when the boar does attack. It was refreshing to not feel like I had to keep wishing the monster would show up to alleviate boredom. Props to the special effects team for creating such a memorable and fearsome creature.
A few other notes: The art department and special effects people must have had an incredible time creating the desolate cabins, littered trailers, souped up vehicles, and gore-spattered set pieces. There is also an appropriate score by musical oddball Les Claypool (Primus). It's all in the category of mindless fun, but with enough brains that you don't feel your intelligence being insulted. In fact, it confidently dances across the fine line, jumps off into your face, and snorts at you in defiance.
I'm sad that my first time viewing Pig Hunt was on my tiny TV at home. No doubt this will be a fun experience on the big screen, and I'm sure this film will amass a large cult following. Hopefully the film will someday achieve the wider release that it deserves. I believe the film is still making rounds in the festival circuit, so if you have a chance, make sure you check it out. This has become one of my favorites of the year so far!
PIG HUNT TRAILER
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Where the film shines most is in its gothic atmosphere that takes its cues from the Hammer films of the 50’s and 60’s. Johnston does a terrific job in establishing a dark vibe for the film. Talbot Manor is suitably decayed, covered in a layer of filth and cobwebs that mirrors the psychological damage of its owner. The surrounding woodlands and even Victorian London give off a foreboding atmosphere. Simply put, the set pieces are a joy to behold. Elfman’s score goes a long way to reinforcing the gothic setting and evokes Wojciech Kilar’s work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula at times.
There are also no problems with the Wolfman himself, as the best bits of the movie occur whenever he’s flexing his claws on screen. Baker’s makeup pays tribute to the groundbreaking work of Jack Pierce while updating the look for the more sophisticated modern audience. A fantastic blend of beast and man, this werewolf inflicts brutality and carnage onto anyone unlucky enough to stumble across his path. Del Toro’s Wolf man careens across the screen with rabid ferocity and is absolutely terrifying to watch. A sequence involving the Wolfman tearing through London exudes real horror and panic. The double-decked steam powered bus recalls a similar scene in Piccadilly Square in American Werewolf in London. The film easily earns its R rating for violence and gore. If only the attention to detail that went into crafting the horror aspects of the film carried over into developing the characters, the film would be an instant classic.
Unfortunately the film rushes to get to the transformation scene for fear of losing its audience. The first fifteen minutes of the film seem to fly by, cramming back story into short snippets at a time before rushing into another set piece. Even the famous refrain from the original “Even a man who is pure at heart…” is crammed into a voice over to begin the film, rather than flowing organically from the script. Given the tragic arc of his character, you’d expect Johnson would invest more time in crafting reasons for us to care for his character, making his fate all the more tragic. There’s simply no time invested in setting up the story as events occur too quickly to resonate.
Benicio Del Toro has cited his love for the original film as his impetus for becoming an actor, making it surprising to watch him sleepwalk through his role as Larry Talbot. The ambling likeability Chaney brought to his role has been completely abandoned in favor of a standoffish surliness. It’s almost as if the film makers were too invested in making a dark film to add moments of levity or spontaneity to the mix. The script eschews exploring Talbot wrestling with the conflicting urges inside him-for his murdered brother’s fiancée Gwen; towards his off kilter father; and after he is bitten-towards the animal instincts that are taking him over. Instead, we witness awkward flashbacks of his childhood and the suicidal mother he finds cradled in his father’s arms as well as a convoluted back story involving time spent in an asylum before being shuttled to America. The film fails to provide moments of Del Toro struggling with the beast within him.
The film’s largest misstep comes from Anthony Hopkins as the eccentric John Talbot, lord of the Talbot estate. Hopkins attempts to strike a balance between nobleman and lunatic and fails miserably. Much like he bungled the role of Van Helsing, Hopkins is woeful here. Where the film calls for him to appear sinister, he comes off more like an annoyingly off kilter uncle. The film never comes up with clear motivations for his befuddled actions as one moment Hopkins is calling Del tor his rightful hair, then seemingly casting him aside to fate and the town investigators. Even worse, these character traits are heaped upon Hopkins in order to make him the central villain of the film.
The “Hopkins as a Werewolf” twist clearly demonstrates the studio’s lack of confidence in an audience’s ability to invest in emotionally complex characters. The story of the werewolf is that of a man combating his owner inner torment and demons. Instead, the film climaxes with a werewolf vs. werewolf action-driven fight sequence that seems completely out of place with the rest of the film.
I hate to qualify my enjoyment of the film, but once again the fact that the film that encountered so many obstacles from the outset yet still was enjoyable to watch is a feat in and of itself. The final version of the film has been cut considerable from its initial length. Here’s hoping that an eventual director’s cut of The Wolfman makes its way to Blu Ray. I’d be interested to see what character bits were left on the cutting room floor. The atmosphere and horror bits really shine. It’s the pesky details like plot and character that stand in the way of The Wolfman being one for the ages. Here’s hoping the home release shines some moonlight on those missing components.
The Wolf Man could have easily been dismissed over the annals of time as yet another B Movie boogeyman as the majority of movie monsters such as the cool looking but otherwise forgettable Creature From the Black Lagoon have been. Yet something about this feral creature has captured our imaginations for decades, and he has become an enduring icon, much like Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula.
Moreso than any other monster, the werewolf represents a tragic figure. Unlike stereotypical monsters that embrace their dark side, the werewolf sees his dual nature as a curse. Lon Chaney Jr. brought a vulnerability to his character that lent sympathy from the audience. Indeed, it was Chaney’s previous role of the tragic Lennie in Of Mice and Men that helped secure him the Wolf Man role. Forty years later David Naughton would portray a sympathetic figure burdened by the werewolf curse in An American Werewolf in London and further cement the idea of the werewolf as a tragic figure. Aside from the spectacular makeup and transformation effects provided by Jack Pierce and Rick Baker, audiences remember the men under the hair, and their genuine horror at the fate that had befallen them. There’s a tragic air to both of these men even before the full moon rises. Talbot struggles with guilt for abandoning his role in the family for years before returning home. After the events in the Gypsy camp, he questions his own sanity. David must cope with the loss of his best friend, and his own guilt over his lack of courage during the attack. He also questions his sanity as Jack returns in zombie form to warn him of his lycanthrope curse.
Chaney’s Larry Talbot is a genial sort, quick to try and reestablish a relationship with his father after years of making his way on his own. He’s quick to flirt with Gwen, the local beauty, and he’s got a bit of a cad in him as he refuses to accept no for an answer when asking her for a date. He’s someone the audience quickly feels an affinity for. It’s a fateful encounter with the gypsy Bela in his wolf form that tragically rips Talbot’s old life from him. Even before the transformation takes hold, Talbot wrestles with the events. Though he swears he killed a wild dog, and suffers from confusion and remorse when it is the gypsy’s body police discover. His problems are compounded later when the transformation takes effect and his inner beast goes on a murderous rampage. The next morning, a horrified Talbot begs the police to lock him up when the mutilated body of the gravedigger turns up, but the police, his doctor and Talbot’s own father chalk it up to the stress of previous events. Landis mirrors this scene in AWiL when David tries to confess to a London cop, only to be spurned as a troublemaker. Unlike other monsters, the werewolf spends the majority of his time as man, and is every bit as repulsed by the acts he commits in those few hours when the beast takes over as the audience.
Contrast the nature of the vampire with that of the werewolf. In the majority of vampire fiction, the creature has embraced his dark nature. Sure we have the “tortured soul” vampire now and again, but these stories tend to be little more than Harlequin romance tales with fangs. The memorable vampire stories revel in their bloodthirsty nature. The werewolf is a more tragic figure, as he has no control over his impulses, and often wakes up with only the faintest memories of the carnage left in his wake.
The abhorrence Talbot and other werewolves feel over their nocturnal excursions explain the short shelf life of the typical werewolf. While it’s not unusual for a vampire’s exploits to span centuries, the typical werewolf often finds himself quickly on the receiving end of a silver bullet. The classic werewolf film finds a man tragically bitten and turned, his wolf exploits spanning only a handful of transformations before being mercifully put down. A staked vampire will scratch and claw at the offending weapon desperate to stave off his destruction. In contrast, the fallen werewolf often appears serene in death, finally escaping his agony by the mercy of the silver bullet. Talbot’s Wolf Man embraced death as the only cure to his agonizing affliction.
In the end, audiences embrace the character of the Wolf Man and his cinematic offspring because of the human tragedy that surrounds the monster. We feel for him because he never asked to be a monster. It is his revulsion at his curse and his following actions that lend us his sympathy. Audiences embrace wolfmen because we transfer our own tragedies and old hurts to the character on screen, lending him our sympathy. It is this identification that allows The Wolf Man his place in the rarified air of cinematic monster icons.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Even though cooperating with others might increase one's chance of survival in a terrifying situation, most groups we find in horror films can't get along to save their own skins. I've collected a few instances in which working together might have helped the characters survive, but ultimately their bickering leads to disastrous, even deadly results. The dichotomy of group dissent is captured very effectively in horror films with the sense of urgency and impending doom forcing characters to make quick decisions. The tension is enhanced when individuals or factions struggle for control, something never achieved when there are "too many cooks in the kitchen". While “siege” films, such as you would find in the work of George Romero or John Carpenter, capture the essence of immediacy, other films with a wider range in environment and a slower pace can also feel equally claustrophobic, frustrating, and futile.
Here are a few off the top of my head that fantastically portray those struggles and the subsequent horror inflicted because of arrogance, fear, or stupidity (or all three):
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
(We can’t even decide what channel to watch.)
Night of the Living Dead (1968): The obvious first example, it's a film in which a group of survivors holed up in a farmhouse, hiding from the recently risen undead, are left to the mercy of charismatic Ben and the self-serving Harry Cooper. With little time for debate, the two make rash decisions that spell certain doom for all involved.
DAY OF THE DEAD
(Steel’s only got time for himself. The rest of you get a face full of M16)
Day of the Dead (1985): With an veritable army of the undead lurking outside underground military complex walls, the scientists and military personnel have more to fear from each other than the rampaging zombies. George Romero focuses on the complexity of interpersonal relationships which cause characters to make irrational decisions.
28 DAYS LATER
(Major West has something insidious in store.)
28 Days Later (2002): A small group of people escape from a “rage” plagued city only to find themselves in a struggle with their military saviors. With zombie-like infected lurking about, there is no safety in or out of their fortified stronghold.
THE LAST WINTER
(This global warming stuff is horseshit. Right?)
The Last Winter (2006): Oil miners clash with environmentalists and can't seem to agree when melting permafrost unleashes a supernatural presence. The bottom line is the only thing important, even when people are being mysteriously killed off by an unseen presence.
(Please let Palmer be human. Please let Palmer be human. Please…)
The Thing (1982): When a life-form that can imitate any living being infiltrates the ranks of arctic researchers, their simple cabin fever infighting escalates to mistrust, suspicion, and finally a paranoia that sets in like a chill in their bones.
AND SOON THE DARKNESS
(I’ll leave your ass here. Just watch. Look. I’m going. See, I’m really going. Don’t make me leave you. I’ll do it.)
And Soon the Darkness (1970): Two young British girls on vacation in the French countryside travel by bicycle in some short shorts and barely any skills with the language. When a trite argument leads them to separate, one of the girls goes missing. Her companion is thrown into a terrifying Hitchcock-ian labyrinth as she tried to fine her friend, getting no help from an oddball assortment of untrustworthy characters.
(Vasquez just wants to know where to shoot.)
Aliens (1986): The arrogance of the marines spells disaster when they arrive at a colony taken over by the malevolent alien presence Ellen Ripley survived in the first film. Even though Ripley has firsthand knowledge of the creatures, the marines are more interested (and overconfident) in their fancy weaponry.
(Suuuuure. I’ll help you climb up there.)
The Descent (2005): Five women embark on a spelunking excursion, only to unleash tension boiling beneath the skin. They face their own backstabbing tendencies, as well as cave-dwelling monsters in a brutal, bloody underground battle.