31 October 2014


Tales from the Darkside 2.05: "Halloween Candy" (1985) directed by Tom Savini
Another Savini episode, and, bonus, one that is specifically about Halloween. Not a bad kick-off for the day. If only the episode were more interesting than it was. A grumpy old man refuses to give out candy on Halloween and is visited by a pissed off troll. It's slow and predictable. It's not even a very good example of Savini's F/X work, with the corpse of the old man looking very fake (the TV lighting on it did not help).

Tales from the Darkside 2.06: "The Satanic Piano" (1985) directed by John Harrison
More interesting than the previous episode, a musician runs into some writer's block when composing a new album. A nutball with a fancy synth that can read the creative bits of your mind offers his help. But, yep, he's a satanic priest and it's all an evil plot. The musician's burned hand at the end has got to be one of the goriest things ever broadcast on network TV in the 1980s.

Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) directed by Tom McLoughlin
I always want to watch something comfortable and familiar on Halloween day itself, and that most often leads me to the horror films in the '80s. I hadn't watched a hockey mask Jason movie in quite a while and I could not remember a thing about this one outside of the scene in the cemetery, so it seemed like a great choice to pop in.

And it was. Jason 6 is a completely fun film, mixing just the right amount of goofiness with the always serious threat that Jason poses. I love the hammy cemetery caretaker. The lightning bolt bringing the very decayed Jason back to life is really cool. The otherwise pointless scene with the idiot paintballers always make me laugh, especially when the nerdy one shoots Jason in the chest. I think the shot of Jason underwater, floating vertically and chained by the neck to a rock, is my favorite image in the entire series.

My only real complaint is that the effects of the MPAA on this movie are very apparent. Most of the kill scenes demurely cut away, showing very little of the actual violence Jason visits on the teens. It gets to be a little annoying.

The Real Ghostbusters 2.15: "Ghost Busted" directed by Marek BuchwaldMasakazu Higuchi
I convinced daughters to watch my favorite '80s cartoon with me when they got home from daycare and school. This turned out to be a nicely gentle introduction to the show, with nothing too scary. Having busted all of NYC's ghosts, the Ghostbusters become the Crimebusters and begin to capture criminals instead. Yeah, I'm not so sure about the legal implications of this either...

The Real Ghostbusters 2.16: "Beneath These Streets" directed by Marek Buchwald & Masakazu Higuchi
A more traditional episode, it which something weird and supernatural threatens NYC. The characterization of Ray is great in this episode. He's geeking out about everything -- hoping there's a water ghost to fight, wondering if a new demon is the cause of the troubles, exploring the sewers by himself. Fun.

Trick 'r Treating

Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004) designed by Rob Daviau & Bruce Glassco & Bill McQuillan & Mike Selinker &  Teeuwynn Woodruff
Friends Jack, Casey, and Brent came over to help celebrate the day and we plopped this board game on the table. In Betrayal, you take turns moving through a spooky house, drawing new room tiles as you walk about in order to expand it. Some of the tiles have you draw cards, which can be useful items, events, or omen cards. Collect enough omen cards and the probability of a dice roll causing "the haunt" goes way up. When the haunt is activated, you look in the instruction book to determine which of 50 different scenarios you have activated. One player then become the betrayer and reads his evil scheme in his own scenario book while the rest of the players read the good guy scenario in the other book.

We activated haunt 45, and Brent became a mad bomber who bombs at midnight. He had somehow strapped bombs the the three of us. We had to disable those bombs and attempt to kill Brent before he finished building the big bomb that would blow up the entire house. It was challenging. The game is very random, and the haunts have secrets in them. I painfully discovered that if Brent rolled an 8, the person to his left -- me -- would instantly blow up. With me out of the game, it was up to Jack and Casey to take him out. They got close, but eventually Brent rolled well enough to kill them as well.

Better for storytelling fun than as a strategic game, I think.

Tales from the Crypt 6.07: "The Pit" (1994) directed by John Harrison
Coincidentally directed by the same man who directed "The Satanic Piano" episode of Darkside I watched. Not really a horror episode, as it's about two pit fighters whose wives really, really hate each other. Amusing, but that's about it.

The Beyond (1981) directed by Lucio Fulci
Being sleepy is always a great state to be in when watching an Italian horror movie. This Fulci classic is no different. I don't think I'd be able to relate the plot with any sort of detail. It's something about a hotel sitting on a doorway to hell, zombies, and lots and lots of close-ups of bad things happening to people's faces.

But, you don't tend to watch these things for the plot. I'm interested in the beautiful images, the over-the-top gore, and the weirdness that Fulci can show me. The Beyond delivers.

Halloween (1978) directed by John Carpenter
For the 16th year in a row: Halloween. You know what struck me as really weird this time out? Michael Myers tooling around Haddonfield in a station wagon. Generally, in the post-Halloween slasher films, you don't see slasher villains driving. In fact, their stereotypical mode of transport is a slow and determined walk. Freddy does drive a bus in Part 2 (and I guess is the car at the end of Part 1), but that's just a part of a scheme to trick kids in a nightmare. Even Myers abandons his driving passion in all of the follow-ups. I think that once you establish the villain as a supernatural entity -- as the very end of this film does -- it's then impossible to show them doing such a mundane tasks as driving in a car in the middle of the afternoon. That would be truly odd.

The Simpsons 26.04: "Treehouse of Horror XXV" (2014) directed by Matthew Faughnan
This was the best "Treehouse" in many years. "School is Hell" was full of creative demon designs and amusing Hell puns. "A Clockwork Yellow" tickled my inner Kubrick fan (Comic Book Guy: it was Barry Lyndon!). "The Others" was a fascinating nod to the old Simpsons of the Tracey Ullman Show with the cast deftly doing both their old and modern voices for the their characters. A fun close to my Halloween celebration.


30 October 2014

October 30th

The Walking Dead 4.14: "The Grove" (2014) directed by Michael Edison Satrazemis
An incredible episode and one of the show's best ever. Having discovered a seemingly idyllic cottage complete with hand-pumped well and plentiful pecan trees, Carol, Tyreese, Lizzie, Mika, and baby Judith consider staying there permanently. Lizzie's young mind, however, has been broken by the zombie apocalypse and she insists on considering the undead as just different kinds of people. She so wants to convince Carol of this that she stabs her little sister Mika to death in order to show that zombie Mika is just the same.

I was surprised the show went this dark. This is as dark as the comic series gets. Carol is forced to decide what to do with the little girl. She can no longer trust her around Judith. That means they can't possibly travel with her. They can't even sleep without worrying she'll do something. Life's already hard enough with the constant threat of zombies and human bad guys without having to worry about an insane child who may slaughter a baby. In the real world, we'd send the girl off to a care facility and visit her on the weekends. In zombieland, Carol is forced to a devastating conclusion. Excellent performances all around convey the hard reality the characters live in.

The Walking Dead 4.15: "Us" (2014) directed by Greg Nicotero
A bit of prep episode before the final episode. Glenn and Tara have a Stand-esque scary experience in a dark tunnel while Daryl learns how brutal his new companions are. I do kind of like Eugene's zombie dinosaur idea, though.

The Walking Dead 4.16: "A" (2014) directed by Michelle MacLaren
Wow, the last half of season 4 has been the absolute best this show has ever been. The lazy writing has been slowly replaced by tension, high emotion, and a tight focus on the theme of what the apocalypse is doing to children and their parents. This episode contains one of my favorite scenes from the comic series, when Rick and Carl (and Michonne and Daryl in the show version) are ambushed by nasty people on the side of the road. They plan to rape Carl and kill them all. Driven into a complete frenzy of parental protection, Rick viciously tears out the leader's throat with his teeth to save his son. It's gory and brutal and exactly what I would do to protect my own girls. That it also makes Rick, at that point, only little bit different from the walkers is both intentional and, I think, brilliant.

I wasn't sure if Terminus was going to end up being the community the comic characters currently live in or something more sinister. Seeing Denise Crosby frying meat at the entrance to the city in the previous episode seemed too Texas Chainsaw to be a coincidence and the piles of bones in this episode confirms these are the cannibals. They've got quite a nice setup here compared to their suburban comic versions. I didn't think I'd feel this way, but I can't wait to watch season 5 next year to see how Rick's group tears these folks near assholes.

The Fog (1979) directed by John Carpenter
Unexpectedly, the wife suggested this one as something to watch. She usually wants movies with more action in them, like 28 Days Later... or The Thing. So, I popped it in and she slowly grew more and more confused. "Is this the old version?" she asked. I wouldn't touch the remake with a 10-foot pole, so yep. "This is different that the newer one," she said. Where had she even seen the remake? I don't even own it. It took a little while, but I finally realized she had really wanted to watch The Mist and got things all mixed up. "Does this tie into The Mist?" she asked. Nope, nothing to do with that other movie in the least.

Despite not being The Mist, I was surprised when she liked the film. It doesn't have the precisely timed roller coaster scares of Halloween, or the pervasive paranoia of The Thing, or Kurt Russell's one-liners in Big Trouble or Escape from New York. It just has atmosphere. Literally and figuratively all at once. I can understand why some dislike the film. It's pure mood with a few faceless ghosts thrown doing a few slasher-kills thrown in. But when you're a little sleepy, bundled up in a blanket on cool night, it's just fine.

29 October 2014

October 29th

Christine (1983) directed by John Carpenter
Since I got to see her in person at the Flint Horror Con, I thought it was time for a re-watch of the old girl. Probably no one's favorite Carpenter movie, Christine sports a merely OK story boosted by some very cool car regeneration F/X. In way, I think this is sort of a precursor school shooter story. Nerd Arnie is picked on by bullies at school, so he buys himself a weapon and uses it to take them out. Afterwards, he kills himself with that weapon.

The movie also got me thinking about generational differences. The Boomers love, love, love to fondly reminisce about their childhood, always making sure us Gen-Xers are fully aware that the 1950s was the best time to be a kid and the 1960s was the best time to be a teenager. King, for example, has this story with a '50s car that plays nothing but the cool songs he heard on the radio as a child, "The Body" / Stand By Me, and the first half of IT. Robert McCammon has Boy's Life and Dan Simmons has Summer of Night. Tim Burton has Ed Wood and George Lucas has American Graffiti. Happy Days, The Wonder Years, nearly every episode of Quantum Leap... it never ends.

Frankly, I think this has given my generation a bit of an inferiority complex. We're desperate to have as cool of nostalgia as they do, and we're doomed to fail. The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s were just not as seminal in our culture. We cannot compete with the likes of That '70s Show, Radio Shack commercials, Hot Tub Time Machine, and horrible Michael Bay movies based on old toys. You know what? Good. Wearing rose colored glasses for too long warps your vision.

28 October 2014

October 28th

Curtains (1983) directed by Richard Ciupka
Well, I broke my own rule about not blind-buying movies and I paid the price. This was the extra blu-ray I got talked into buying at the Synapse table at the Flint Horror Con. In my defense, the labia-like curtains on the cover / poster intrigued me. Nope, that's not the first time this has happened...

Curtains is a failure of a horror movie. It thinks it's a slasher movie, but it doesn't pass my good slasher movie test:
  1. Create a visually interesting villain.
  2. Make that villain's kills either gory or creative (or both).
For #1, the film just qualifies. The villain wears a fairly creepy old woman mask, the top of which you can see on the poster. The villain with this mask on, ice skating in slow motion, was probably the film's best image. For #2, it utterly drops the ball. Editing ensures that we don't see most of the villain's kills. The ones that we do see are completely boring: a knife stab, someone shot with a gun... wake me up when it's over.

Worse, the movie's story is a mess. Supposedly, Curtains had a tortured production that lasted years, and you can certainly tell. The real killer has a lame motivation for her murder spree. The director's audition process doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Matthew disappears on a snowmobile with no explanation. The doll on the poster is used as an effectively creepy totem by the killer, then is completely forgotten later in the movie. The film tries to say something about how actresses can go too far to gain a part, but it ends up just saying "bitches be crazy, yo."

Ugh. To eBay, my new blu-ray goes.

27 October 2014

October 27th

The Walking Dead 4.10: "Inmates" (2014) directed by Tricia Brock
A catch-up episode with most everyone we didn't see in "After." Daryl and Beth are camping in the woods; Maggie, Sasha, and Bob are wandering around looking for Glenn at Maggie's insistence; and poor Tyreese amusingly has ended up with a pack of little girls to take care of, including a screaming baby Judith. Towards the end, Carol emerges out of nowhere to join Tyreese and the girls. Is that what the otherwise pointless plague plot was all about? So that there would be a little extra drama when these two meet up again?

The Walking Dead 4.11: "Claimed" (2014) directed by Seith Mann
While Michonne and Carl hunt for supplies, Rick is surprised when he hears men entering the house and quickly hides under the bed. What follows is a handful of scenes brimming with tension as we wonder if Rick will be noticed by the men, who are so not-nice that one chokes another into unconsciousness over a bed to sleep in. It's been quite a while since the show had remembered that strangers in this post apocalypse can be just as scary as the walkers (and I'm not talking about ego-maniacs in tanks). Great episode.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) directed by James Whale
My 4-year-old wanted to watch a movie, so I suggested this one. She'd been unfazed by The Mummy and I thought she might get a kick of of the best monster movie that Universal had to offer. Watching the movie through the eyes of a child is fun.

She had to hide her eyes at the beginning when Frankenstein emerges from the water and kills Maria's poor dad and mom, which is a pretty scary way to start the picture. She was enthralled by Dr. Pretorius' little creations, giggling at the silly king. She wanted to hide her eyes again when Frankenstein encountered the blind man, but I convinced her that the scene was not scary at all. She thought it was great when Frankenstein began to learn to talk. That, more than anything, humanized him for her, I think. At the end, we both enjoyed imitating the Bride's weird head movements to make each other laugh.

The Walking Dead 4.12: "Still" (2014) directed by Julius Ramsay
A character-building episode for Daryl and Beth. They fight, they learn more about each other, they become closer in the end. It's the Walking Dead version of a "Locked in a Room" episode and exists entirely to put more punch into what happens in the next episode.

The Walking Dead 4.13: "Alone" (2014) directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Daryl and Beth settle into a mysteriously clean and well-stocked funeral home. They irrationally decide this is nothing to worry about and proceed to live there without a care. Somewhere else, Maggie irrationally decides to abandon Sasha and Bob and search for Glenn on her own. Sasha irrationally decides that living alone is a smart idea and abandons Bob, who is trying to catch up with Maggie. This show never fails to disappoint by making its characters -- who've lived in this world for years now -- make dumb choices in order to advance the plot.

26 October 2014

October 26th

Hell's Highway (2002) directed by Jeff Leroy
The final and namesake movie of my $5 Highway to Hell Collection was a bit of surprise. It's yet another no-budget camcorder movie in which a group of horny teens get lost in the desert and end up slaughtered. The acting is crappy. The sound is bad. There's a half-assed attempt to do some Blair Witch-y shaky cam stuff. And still, I thought the movie was a load of fun.

It's fun because the folks making the film are clearly having a ball and throwing all of their energy into the thing. They also know the power of upping the ante. The evil character getting hit by a car and having her head smashed was pretty cool. Cooler? Having her intestines stuck to the bumper of the car so that when the kids take off, her torso is dragged along for the ride. For icing on the cake? Have them discover the evil girl's head stuck in the wheel well, which explodes blood all over the slutty girl's face. It's so over-the-top, you can't help but laugh.

I can't believe it, but that $5 collection was well worth the $5. I enjoyed half of the movies in the set, saw things I've never seen before, and got in a few chuckles. Not bad at all.

The Walking Dead 4.09: "After" (2014) directed by Greg Nicotero
Carl gets his own episode. Chandler Riggs must have felt pretty good knowing that the producers trusted his abilities enough to have him carry an entire episode nearly by himself. I vastly prefer seeing the parts of society I'm familiar with in their post-apocalyptic state, rather than the prison. This gives us a handful of nice moments in the episode: Carl's initial excitement at the TV & Xbox, then reality setting in while he rips the HDMI cable out to tie the front door; Carl saying "cool" when he stands in the middle of the road and observes the abandoned neighborhood that is now his to play with; and Carl finding and consuming an entire 120 oz of chocolate pudding.

25 October 2014

October 25th

Flint Horror Convention Part 4
Not a bad way to inaugurate the sixth week of Halloween, if I do say so. I never have a bad time at the FHC. It has a relaxed atmosphere with enough going on that I have to choose between multiple things I'd like to do at any given time. I also like the family-friendliness of the con, which features a children's costume contest, a lady painting scary faces, and a guy making balloon creations (including a balloon Freddy claw for one lucky girl!). This is exactly how you create the next generation of horror geeks.

Mondo Matt's Trailers
Like the past couple of years, the con kicked off -- at least for me -- with my movie trailer / intermission time compilation in the movie room. There were only a handful of folks there to catch it this time out, but I heard a few laughs for the silliness I included. I think the goofy Psychos in Love trailer went over the best of the lot, though I'm personally in love with the Neon Maniacs trailer.

Vendor Room
Having moved to the Riverfront Banquet Center, there was tons of breathing room for the vendor tables this year. Though the new place lacks the character of the creepy old Masonic Temple from previous years, the space just works better for a convention. Man, I spent way more in here that I intended to. Grabbed some cool pictures to hang up, a set of magnets with the Lament Configuration's faces on them made by my pal Jason, a couple of movies from Synapse's table (Jerry always talks me into one extra), and other fun stuff.

Danny Hicks & Tom Sullivan
My pal Jack hosted a Q&A with this pair of Evil Dead vets. Both had plenty of funny stories to tell not just about Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, but other projects they've worked on as well. I especially liked Danny Hicks' Liam Neeson impression, extra-thick on the Irish accent. Later, I grabbed autographs from both these gentlemen. Tom Sullivan, when he saw that I was buying a print of his Lovecraft Deep Ones painting, enthused at length about "The Shadow over Innsmouth" and showed me all of the other Innsmouth-related paintings he had made for a Chaosium RPG supplement that never made it to print. Very cool.

At the last minute, Christine herself decided to grace the con with her presence. I gotta say, the caretakers of Christine are very professional. It goes without saying that Christine herself has been restored into like-new condition, and they've implanted remote controls into her so that they can scare visitors with a sudden flash of her headlights or beep of her horn. They also had a nice mini-museum of Christine memorabilia with toy cars, just about ever version of the book ever printed, and even an old board game featuring a Plymouth Fury. They had a TV playing the movie on repeat throughout the day. They had numerous Christine items to buy, including a nice polo shirt with a fiery Christine stitched into the breast. I went for the very reasonable $10 photo + print combo. I couldn't pass up the chance to grab a picture with the world's most evil car:

John E.L. Tenney
Towards the end of the day, we attended the John E.L. Tenney talk. I'd caught his paranormal lecture at a couple of previous FHCs, but had regretted skipping it last year. Whatever you may think of the supernatural, Tenney is an excellent storyteller. He spins some odd tales -- a restaurant that he ate in twice that no one had ever heard of and no one could ever find later -- but couches everything in the soft skepticism of "I don't know what it was, I just know it was weird."

One tale in particular I found disturbing to consider. As a teenager, Tenney was clinically dead for some minutes due to a congenital health issue. With some slight hesitation, he revealed what he experienced while dead. It was not a bright light and no dead relatives were there to welcome him. It was not pleasant at all. He said that it was incorporeal awareness trapped in infinity. He said he wanted to scream, but had no mouth. He wanted close his eyes, but he had no eyeballs. Unending awareness of the infinite without recourse. If there's a Hell, this is what it is.

He ended his lecture with the same story he always tells to wrap things up, which I'd heard a couple of times before. This telling was different, though, as his eyes welled up a bit when he related the tale of the lost necklace under the floor. It's hard to dismiss the story as made-up, or misunderstood, or an exaggeration when you see such emotion coming from its teller.

And that was it for this year's Flint Horror Convention. I had a great time again and hope to return in 2015 for part V.

Constantine (2005) directed by Francis Lawrence
After the con, I still needed to get a horror movie in for the day to keep up my Six Weeks pace. I never got around to reading the comic series Hellblazer, so I suppose I'm lucky not to be distracted by what I'm told are huge differences between the film and its source.

On its own without that baggage, I like the film. It's beautifully shot, has an interestingly legalistic take on the mythology of Catholicism, and features a bunch of cool half-mystical / half-physical fights with demons. It doesn't hurt that I am also an unashamed Keanu Reeves fan. Sure, the movie's a little Hollywood in some of its approaches (the super-duper cross-shaped gun with a flamethrower on it comes to mind), and some of the CGI demon stuff looks a little wonky, and Shia LaBeouf is annoying as ever, but I can ignore those things easily enough in favor of the film's numerous other charms.

24 October 2014

October 24th

Feeding Grounds (2006) directed by Junior Bonner
The weird "these are actually good" streak has ended for my $5 Highway to Hell Collection set with Feeding Grounds. It's yet another movie about partying kids getting stuck in the desert and dying. Desert locations are free and easy to shoot at if you live near one, I'm thinking.

The movie's just too low-key, I'm not even sure what the monster was. There was glimpse of a clawed hand under a car, but that's all we ever see. What we mostly see are people with bites on their necks getting sick and then dying mostly off screen. I think they were going for something in the neighborhood of "arty suspense," but it was more of a sleeping potion for me.

I will say DP Tarin Anderson was doing some good work on this movie. There are nice deep focus shots, some cool framing using the desert sun, and interesting stuff like putting a camera in a cooler. She even wrangled a crane for some overhead shots. Her work gives the movie a professional sheen it, frankly, does not deserve.

Tales from the Crypt 6.06: "The Bribe" (1994) directed by Ramón Menéndez
I like Terry O'Quinn and Benicio Del Toro, but I didn't care for this episode so much. Perhaps that says something about me? The deeper story -- outside of a father killing himself because he thought he caused her death in fire -- is about a daughter growing up and expressing her sexuality.

23 October 2014

October 23rd

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006) produced by Michael Ruggiero
Hat tip again to Kaedrin for another movie watching idea. I guess I've watched a lot of "making of" documentaries over the years, as there wasn't much that I hadn't heard before. I'm tempted to say it's more than that, at this point. These stories have solidified into a horror canon of sorts. These canonical stories and ideas are told over and over again in documentaries like this one, at horror convention panels, and in books. We horror fans internalize them and they become part of the enjoyment of the genre for us. I'm thinking of things like:
  • Wes Craven reading the newspaper article about the man dying in his sleep after telling his family he was afraid he'd die if he slept.
  • Tom Savini mentioning how the gruesome stuff he saw in Vietnam informed his work.
  • Debra Hill explaining the Halloween grew from a demand to make a horror movie about babysitters.
  • The idea that slasher villains seemingly punish teen immorality.
  • The idea that the '80s slasher cycle was a reaction to the Reagan era.
  • The idea that horror series venture more and more into self-parody the longer they last.
  • The controversies and protests over Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Maniac, etc.
It seems like certain things are always covered in these documentaries and always with the same perspective. I think I'd be most interested in a horror documentary that came up with a new angle of attack on this material. But, again, I've seen a lot of these things over the years.

Speaking of the controversies, I found this section of the documentary to be odd. It cuts between 25-year-old footage of Siskel & Ebert expressing their disgust over the then-current horror films, 25-year-old footage of the lady who tried get Silent Night, Deadly Night yanked from theaters, and modern footage of people arguing against this. I found it strange to see the modern pro-horror side debating against these ghosts. The argument has been over for quite a while at this point. We won. Ebert ended up championing Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and I can buy Silent Night on blu-ray if I choose. There's a zombie show on television, of all places, as gory as Dawn of the Dead. Halloween is now the second biggest American holiday after Christmas. There's nothing to be angry about anymore. Folks, you've gotta let it go.

I'm being overly critical. This is a perfectly serviceable overview of the history of the slasher genre that manages to talk to quite a few of the major players. And, thanks to this documentary, I know that I now need to watch The Burning soon. Wow, that scene with the shears...

Watch this whole thing for free on the Youtube:

Tales from the Darkside 2.04: "Parlour Floor Front" (1985) directed by Richard Friedman
A ham-handed metaphor for Western colonization of Africa. Evil white people buy a building but cannot force out a black tenant living in their parlor due to fair housing laws. Naturally, there's voodoo involved and people end up dying. Not my favorite episode.

22 October 2014

October 22nd

The Walking Dead 4.05: "Internment" (2013) directed by David Boyd
Good. The end of the plague story has come early enough in the season that they can get to doing more interesting things. I'm utterly tired of seeing people coughing inside of the gray walls of the dull prison location. Gotta love how Rick splashes water over his face from a community barrel of water. They all deserve to cough up their lungs for being so stupid.

The Walking Dead 4.06: "Live Bait" (2013) directed by Michael Uppendahl
This was one of the best episodes in quite a while, likely because it was completely divorced from the folks at the prison. Instead, we follow a bearded and depressed Governor, who walks the streets not really caring what happens. He stumbles upon a family living in an apartment who've been holed up there since the SHtF thanks to a handy truck full of food. It was nice to see how other people were dealing with the apocalypse for a change, and to see the Governor as a regular person instead of a villain. I wish the show had hung out here longer.

The Walking Dead 4.07: "Dead Weight" (2013) directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Their father dead and the truck full of food nearly empty, the family leaves the safety of the apartment with the Governor as their new protector. Not having dealt with the horrors of the apocalypse, the family is complete useless out in the real world and they soon run into trouble. Luckily for them, the Governor's old pal Martinez wanders their way and they soon join Martinez's camp. The Governor discovers he just can't deal with not being the leader -- he's super-anal about security -- so, obviously, he begins to murder or threaten the other alpha males in the camp. Boo, old Governor is back.

The Walking Dead 4.08: "Too Far Gone' (2013) directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
And within the space of just 3 episodes, the Governor's return is completed with his death. Kind of a waste. On the plus side, the prison is destroyed, so I'll never have to sit through another episode in that boring place.

The Governor's pseudo-wife, carrying her dead daughter all the way to the prison in her arms to show the Governor what he has wrought... yeah, writers, you reached further than your grasp on that one. There's already a giant war going on, with Herschel getting his head chopped off and all. Lots of emotions already there. Your attempt to push it further just came off as manipulative.

The Craving (2008) directed by Sean Dillon
Wow. Another movie from my $5 Highway to Hell Collection that wasn't half bad. This one, like the horrible first film I watched from the set, is another one of those "filmed with a camcorder by a group of friends" productions that are usually painful to sit through. Surprisingly, The Craving wasn't torture. These folks seem to know what they're doing. Decent editing. Original story. Nice acting. Even an appropriate level of humor added into the horror (everyone whipping out a cellphone at the same time when they discover they're in trouble; calling shotgun for both the car and the guy with a shotgun that pops up; the guy with the broken leg letting out painful yelps as he has sex: lots of chuckles). Nice work, guys!

Their story idea is mostly pretty standard stuff. Five horny teens in a van breakdown in the middle of nowhere and have to deal with the horrors there. Except, the horror they find is fairly unique. It's kind of a demon-beast-man that only comes out at night and likes to eat people if there are no dogs handy. It also stinks very badly and it's odor is actually an addictive drug. It's so addictive, people crave it enough to want to hang out in the middle of nowhere and feed the beast puppies in order to get a whiff. Can't say I've ever seen a movie using this idea before. Love it.

Also, the movie was filmed in Desert Center, CA. The founder of that town was an interesting guy.

21 October 2014

October 21st

Sensored (2009) directed by Ryan Todd
Robert Picardo stars as an OCD-suffering agent for the CIA working on interrogation techniques in his basement. The tone of film is very dark at the onset, looking like it'll be another Saw-inspired torturefest. It's not at all. After some nastiness with spikes in the heels near the beginning, the movie veers into pure psychological thriller territory.

And I do mean "pure psychological." The twist in this film is sort of obvious almost immediately, and I correctly guessed that both Lucas and Jefferies were Wade's versions of Tyler Durden. Less obvious was that everything we see in the entire movie up to Wade's shooting is all in his head as well, with the film ripping off The Usual Suspects for the source of the other character's in crazy Wade's dream.

The movie's pretty low-key, not particularly full of surprises, and more derivative than it ought to be. I will say I always enjoy watching Picardo, though, who's one of our great character actors. Nice to see him get a lead role to chew on.

20 October 2014

October 20th

Sheltered (2010) directed by Josh Stoddard
I think I just found the one good movie in that $5 Highway to Hell Collection I bought. Just on production values alone, this movie's galaxies beyond the other two films I've watched in the set. Competent acting, professional-looking lighting, the sound is actually audible and free of hiss, and some imaginative editing; in this set, it doesn't take much to impress me.

Storywise, the film isn't particularly special. It has a bit of a Psycho riff, with a crazy-but-normal-looking guy running a bar in the middle of nowhere who invites a group of young folks to take shelter from a storm in his house. As they party in his house, the bar owner slowly loses control and begins to kill his guests. Along the way, we learn more about how he came to be the way he is. It's all fairly predictable and drags on a little longer than it should, but Gerald Downey's strong performance as the killer keeps things interesting.

One bit that I thought was fantastic, however, was a flashback to the killer Joey's childhood. After breaking into Joey's house and killing his parents, a killer sits next to Joey and has a conversation. The killer intuits that Joey is like him deep inside and they talk about "the voices" that they both hear whispering to them. It's an intense scene, reminding me a little of Frailty in its depiction of madness.

19 October 2014

October 19th

Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist (2014) directed by Ryan Meade
This is a documentary about Tom Sullivan, the SFX artist who worked on The Evil Dead. He's a super-nice guy and a mainstay at many of the conventions I go to. In fact, you can see me rather clearly in the background of one shot in this documentary, taking a picture of something at the Flint Horror Con. Cool!

Not a bad documentary, especially considering I didn't care at all for the last Ryan Meade movie I saw. Naturally, the largest chunk covers The Evil Dead. Michigan guy that I am, it's a story I'm well familiar with, but it was interesting to see it told from a purely Tom Sullivan perspective. Outside of that, the film covers how Sullivan stumbled into the world of art as a child, and also the personal tragedies that affected him post-Evil Dead. It's this last bit that could've used a little more attention. While the documentary implies that Sullivan was able to pull himself out of depression due to attending horror conventions (feel the love from us horror geeks!), it would've been nice to have this journey illustrated a little better.

Tales from the Darkside 2.03: "Ring Around the Redhead" (1985) directed by Theodore Gershuny
An earthquake opens a portal in a man's workshop. The portal leads to a constantly changing destination and the man wisely lowers probes into it using a rope and hook in order to find out what's on the other side. When one probes comes back with a woman holding on, his life completely changes. A creative episode, though almost silly in its nerd wish-fulfillment.

The Real Ghostbusters 2.08: "Night Game" (1987) directed by Marek BuchwaldMasakazu Higuchi
A haunting at a baseball stadium turns out to be far more serious. Like Mortal Kombat, the fate of the Earth is going to be decided by a once-every-500-years baseball game between good and evil. I like the forcefulness of the message in this one. "Don't cheat kids! Else you may damn the entirety of humanity!"

18 October 2014

October 18th

The Blob (1988) directed by Chuck Russell
This one has always been in my list of "remakes better than the original." I know some would disagree. Unlike The Fly and The Thing remakes, this isn't a spectacular movie with something to say on the human condition. What it does share with those two movies is an incredible display of prime '80s practical effects wizardry. People are dissolved, they float inside of the Blob in various states of digestion, and the Blob shoots out vents and cracks under doors and an entire street in an aggressive quest to eat. With the exception of a handful of wonky blue screen shots of the Blob moving, it's all fantastic.

I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of the plot twist invented for the remake. Instead of being alien goo in a meteor, the Blob is now an out of control bio-weapon experiment conducted by the US Government. This allows the film to insert a bunch of Feds in bio-containment suits carrying guns to terrorize the town. I'm not sure this was entirely necessary, as the Blob is pretty scary all by itself. The treachery of the head agent -- who orders people sealed under the street with the Blob -- feels completely uninteresting when there's a giant ball of jelly dissolving people.

Night of the Demon (1980) directed by James C. Wasson
Been wanting to watch this one for a long time ever since I saw the trailer, which, among other things, features a dude getting his weener ripped off by Bigfoot. Let me repeat that: one way that Bigfoot kills a guy in this movie is by suddenly jumping out of the woods on man peeing, grabbing his penis, and ripping it off. If that doesn't make someone want to give this a watch, I don't know what will.

The rest of the film is about as good as that one scene. Horrible acting. Utterly incoherent editing. Pretty good special effects. You can certainly tell where the money went. They knew it, too. Gore shots in the film are lingered on for a disturbingly long time. How's a full minute of staring at a hatchet would gushing blood sound? Good? You'll love this movie.

In the movie, a professor and group of college students set off into the woods to search for the elusive sasquatch. Along the way, they discover the horrible secret of their local bigfoot: he's a rapist. Yeah. And he's pissed that his would-be father-in-law killed his baby. Yeah. In the end, only the professor survives his wrath after an incredible, incredible scene of Bigfoot going apeshit on everyone in a cabin. Holy cow. The entire scene is in Incredible Hulk TV show slow motion, with Bigfoot ripping everyone to shreds while roaring. At one point, he rips a guy's intestines out of his guts and then uses it to whip the rest of the people.

Oh yeah, I will be ordering the Code Red DVD. Watch it below if you don't believe me:


17 October 2014

October 17th

The Invasion (2007) directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel & James McTeigue
I wish I knew what the original ending was. WB didn't like Hirschbiegel's film and brought in the Wackowskis and their pal McTeigue to change things around and spice things up with more action sequences. I'm guessing this is why the supposedly non-violent infected throw a Molotov cocktail at Carol's car shortly after zombie-hording it with their bodies.

Until the too-quick happy ending, I was thinking this was an awful anti-vaxxer movie. There are no pods in this pod people movie. Instead, the alien is a space virus that rewrites DNA. The infected like to spread it by tricking people into drinking liquids they have projectile vomited into. So, of course, their big plan is to puke into the city's water supply and spread the virus incredibly easily that way.

What's that? That's not remotely what they do in the film? Hmm. Instead, they tell everyone there's a nasty flu and convince people to get vaccinated with their fake vaccine. Once infected, what do these people act like? Why, they're socially awkward, have trouble expressing emotions, and have a penchant for organizing their Halloween instead of eating it. Yep, sounds like autism.

Strangely, a vaccine ends up saving the day in the new ending. I'm wondering if what we're seeing is the result of a battle between original writer and possible anti-vaxxer loon David Kajganich, and the more sensible Wachowskis? Perhaps someone will write a deathbed book some day and explain.

Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again (1982) directed by Jerry Belson
When this Jekyll changes into Hyde, a rug of hair bursts out of his chest, gold jewelry appears on his fingers and neck, and one pinky fingernail grows to coke spoon length. That's about all you need to know about this one to understand the tone they're going for. I thought it was hilarious, in that late '70s / early '80s goofball comedy way. Together Again sits comfortably next to the likes of Airplane and The Naked Gun, with just a bit more "adult" (read: sex and drugs) humor in it than those classics.

Whatever you think of the movie, no one could argue that Mark Blankfield doesn't give his 110% in the titular roles. In sort of a nutty professor role, he's awkward and obsessed as Jekyll, and completely off the leash as Hyde. His Hyde is the ultimate parody of a player, seemingly unable to walk without a boogie in his step and unable to talk without some jive in his speech. Hyde's the ultimate ladies man and Jekyll finds himself waking up in ridiculously trashed hotel rooms that nearly put the one in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to shame.

I dunno. I had fun watching it.

16 October 2014

October 16th

Body Snatchers (1993) directed by Abel Ferrara
Unlike its two predecessors, this one has little to say. Given that the film is set at a military base, I suppose it's trying to comment on the rigid structure of the military and how recruits are broken down in basic training in order to make them more efficient at thoughtlessly following orders. Sorry, that's not something that particularly worries me, much less frightens me. The military works pretty well that way.

But, it's hard to tell if this movie is trying to do much of anything. At a scant 83 minutes, everything is rushed. The movie doesn't care to spend any time having the main character Marti slowly grow paranoid about the weird behavior of the people around her. Instead, it is far more interesting in just hitting the cool beats from the infinitely superior '78 version. We get pods that spew fluid from one end and make sounds like a fetal heartbeat. We get white tendrils reaching out for people. We get people dissolving when the duplication has finished and the pod person dumping the remains in garbage trucks. Most of all, we get pod people screaming and pointing. There is lots and lots of screaming and pointing in this movie. I get it. I liked the ending of the '78 version, too. But, c'mon, man.

15 October 2014

October 15th

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) directed by Philip Kaufman
Ideological isolation: that's the fear I see in this version of the story. Early in the film, when Elizabeth explains to Matthew that her boyfriend Geoffrey doesn't seem the same to her, he tells her to see a psychiatrist. Matthew explains that the shrink
...would eliminate whether Geoffrey was having an affair, or had become gay. Whether he had a social disease, or had become a Republican. 
That last bit in there seems like a joke, but what if it's not? What if the population of the notoriously liberal San Francisco started to change into Republicans overnight? The unaffected natives would suddenly find their viewpoint increasingly in the minority. No longer would they be able to comfortably assume that most people they met shared their perspective. Before the discovery of Jack's duplicate body, Elizabeth is continually noticing people in the street sharing secret looks with each other, and when she follows Geoffrey he is having secret meetings. When they glance at her, it's with a dead stare the tells her she's an outsider. Few things could feel more alien than suddenly being excluded like this.

What if society moved onto a different way of thinking and left you behind? Would you pretend to go along with the flow to fit in, or would you steadfastly hold onto your beliefs? How long could you hold out if everyone else thought of things differently from you? We do have examples of this in the real world and they rarely turn out well. I'm thinking of a guy like the Unabomber, or even Elliot Rodger. Being unable to fit in can drive you nuts.

14 October 2014

October 14th

Texas Chainsaw (2013) directed by John Luessenhop
Better than the overly dark remake series. This one feels more like an '80s slasher to me. It's sort of a gorier Halloween 4 in a way. The film goes back to the original movie, picking up right where the first left off. Fun! TCM vet Bill Moseley takes on the roll of Drayton in the prologue, with a maskless Gunnar Hansen playing another Sawyer who's come with rest of the clan to defend the family after Sally's wild tale draws both the police and a bunch of townsfolk to the house.

Past the prologue, the film starts out in typical TCM style. There's a group of friends driving in a van in Texas -- as always, 3 boys and 2 girls -- and they end up at Leatherface's house. He doesn't take kindly to strangers wandering in and starts chopping people up. Normally, this is the entire film, with the final girl escaping with her life but not her sanity. She does escape, but it's at the midpoint of the movie. From here, the movie takes a left turn. I'm guessing this is where it probably lost a lot fans.

Me, I liked the direction it went. The film declares early on "ain't nothing thicker than blood," and, by gum, it sticks to that philosophy. Heather finds out that the town slaughtered nearly her entire family and burned their house to the ground. This revelation kicks in a clannish reaction in her: she starts to see the townsfolk as the other and the Sawyers, even brutish Leatherface, as her own. The film argues that her lineage makes her a Sawyer in temperament and preference, overruling any influence from her adoptive parents. Not exactly in line with the tabula rasa idealism of today's culture.

Sure, it's hard to swallow why she would ever end up taking care of the man who chopped up her friends, but I'm willing to go with it for the sake of something different in TCM storytelling. If a crazy mayor of small town was trying to kill me, I'd probably look to my deranged cousin/uncle for help. too. And, in the real world, nearly every killer's mother is always declaring: "he's a good boy!", so perhaps this is not as big of a jump as it may seem.

I have to say I had a little trouble with the timeline. Just a baby in 1973, 26-year-old Alexandra Daddario plays the grown up Heather. She doesn't look anywhere near 39. Sheriff Hooper is still sheriff 39 years later. Leatherface is awfully spry for a man in his 60s. The movie goes to great pains to not associate "1973" with "August 19th" -- hiding the year on tombstones with grass, for example -- but they do slip up. Ah, whatever. They wanted a pretty twenty-something to star in the show and too much real world time had passed from the first film to make this possible. This is not important. I had fun with film and that's all that really matters with these types of films.

I Spit on Your Grave (2010) directed by Steven R. Monroe
It's sometimes a little hard to justify wanting to watch something like this. Rape-revenge films have exactly two extremely violent parts, with the first intending to horrify and the second intending to satisfy. These films force us to face that reptile part of the brain that we like to pretend we have under control. The worse Jennifer's experience in the first part of the film is, the more we enjoy the second part. We want see Jennifer destroy her tormentors. It makes us feel good to see her torture them to death. That's not something we're supposed to take pleasure in in polite society, but it's a darkness we all have buried in us. Bringing this to the surface for us to examine is a part of the considerable power of horror films.

It's been quite a while since I've seen the original, but I believe this is the superior version of the story. I like that the remake cut our Jennifer's recuperation. Instead, she begins to torment her rapists like a female Michael Myers, invisibly freaking them out with noises in the dark and dead birds and missing camcorder tapes. This allows us to see the rapists' anxiety as reminders of their crime intrude into their normal life. I also liked the Saw-inspired traps Jennifer devises for the men. In a post-Saw world, I don't think audiences would be impressed with the deaths in the 1978 version, and, honestly, the new deaths are more satisfying as a method of revenge. And, clever at times: I can't say I've ever seen someone's eyelids held open with fishhooks so that crows could feast.

If I had an quibbles with the production, it's that the rapists are a little too stereotypically rednecky. They're living in trailers in the woods, constantly wearing camo, one has a Confederate flag on his head, and they use the phrase "city folk" an awful lot. These guys are about two inches away from playing a banjo on porch. It's makes them a little cartoony and lessens the impact of the events somewhat.

13 October 2014

October 13th

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Ever wanted to know what Leatherface was like as a baby? Were you curious as to how Hoyt lost his teeth? What happened to that old guy's legs? And just where did Leatherface get that chainsaw, anyways? Answers to every minor, unimportant question you may have had about the remake are revealed within!

Having made a successful movie, but making the mistake of chopping off one of the iconic villain's arms at the end of it, a prequel was nearly inevitable. The problem with prequels, as everyone well knows, is that they lack tension. We already know how this has to turn out: all of the Hewitts survive and all of the kids die. Any other way and the original remake can't happen. From there, it's just a process of getting from point A to point B.

Along the way, as I mentioned, the film spends an inordinate amount of time explaining every little thing about the remake. Who really needed to see that Hoyt killed the original sheriff and took his car? That was strongly implied in the remake. Who cares that he lost his teeth fighting with a victim, or that Leatherface cut off the old man's legs, or the fact that Leatherface simply grabbed a chainsaw inexplicably sitting on a desk at the slaughterhouse. None of this stuff matters. How about answering why the rest of the family goes along with Hoyt when he suddenly starts serving them people meat? Why does his mother not care that her son ordered Leatherface to chop off her brother's legs? Why is she so damaged that she accepts all this?

The only real explanation for the family offered is that the meat packing plant closed and all of the jobs in town dried up. For some reason, this pushes both Leatherface and Hoyt over the edge into cannibalism. That seems a tad extreme to me, but I'm not from Texas.

12 October 2014

October 12th

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) directed by Marcus Nipsel
Why set this in 1973? Aren't modern remakes supposed to update things to make them relevant for the kids buying the tickets? Supposedly, the lack of cellphones and Google confuses them too much to enjoy these otherwise. But, seriously, we've already got the perfect TCM movie set in 1973 and the time period has no relevance to the story. In fact, I found it annoying as the filmmakers were desperate to let us know "hey, it's the 1970s, everyone!" There's a goofy "space helmet" 8-track player in the van, as well as a MAD Magazine poster on the ceiling and a "Shit Happens" bumper sticker on the back. Plus. the kids are traveling to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and are passing joints as they sing along to "Sweet Home Alabama." We get it.

This is sort of the problem with the whole movie. Why are they doing anything that they're doing? Because, "hey. this is a redneck horror movie, everyone!" There doesn't seem to be any story the filmmakers are trying to tell here. What are the Hewitts doing in Texas? Are they working at the meat packing plant we see at the end? Are they cannibals? Are they inbred? I have no idea. All they appear to do is facilitate Leatherface's hobby of chopping people up in his inexplicably raining basement.

The flavor found in the original is gone; this is a dry piece of meat. This move is so desaturated it almost looks gray. The characters are either pure evil or redneck simpletons. Where's Drayton yelling at Leatherface for ruining the door? Where's the crazy hitchhiker talking about head cheese? What about the dinner scene?

Though, as a purely horrific run through a carnival funhouse, the movie serves its purpose. It's packed with plenty of tension and horror. The set designs tend to be detailed and crazy. I like that the entire properly is littered with junk and teeth and old cars. The cinematography -- though washed of all color -- is really good, with beautiful shots of moonlight streaming through the trees, and a cool shot of the camera exiting the bullet hole in the window of the van.

I think this tends to describe the Platinum Dunes remakes in general: nice to look at, but lacking in story.