Monday, April 18, 2011

Never Say You'll Be Right Back

Okay, so I have been slacking yet again on the 30 Days of Horror Challenge. And you're right, I suck. And yes, I'm well aware that it's not that freakin' hard to write about one movie a day. But cut me some slack man. I've been gearing up for a vacation.

This, of course, means that I won't be checking in at the Mancave for another week or two. But I promise to send your regards to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. And yes, of course I'll give the Haunted Mansion a big hug from you. And I'll definitely scour The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for any black magic artifacts I think you'd be into.

I have the feeling that when I return, I'll be more than ready to jump back into the darkness with you. So relax. Don't worry.  I'll be right back...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mr. Daywalt, Your Shorts Scare Me

I came across an interview with Drew Daywalt over on  I had never heard of him, so many thanks to Drew Grant for turning me on to his micro-horror films.  Most of his videos are two to five minutes long, but they pack a mean punch. I highly recommend you check them out.

The only problem I had with the piece was its opening-a lament about how the current generation has "grown up in a period when the lack of good horror films is downright scary." And yes, this is the conventional "wisdom." But I've been hearing versions of that same statement since the eighties, and it's even less true now. Anyone saying there's no good, original horror coming out simply doesn't know where to look (Hint: It's probably not playing at your local 20-screen, stadium-seating cineplex. They need at least three of those screens for whatever Michael Bay just shit out).

So to Ms. Grant, thanks for the heads up about Daywalt Fear Factory. I'd like to return the favor. Here's my post on all that's right with modern horror. But don't stop there, click on any of the fine blogs listed in my sidebar and you'll soon find out where all the good horror has gone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Wonderful Nightmare

Do you ever have a dream so awesome you don’t want to wake up from it, but after you do, the warm glow of that dream makes you happy for the rest of the day? Has that dream ever been a nightmare?
I don't tend to have a lot of full-on nightmares. Usually my bad dreams are just sort of unpleasant, but last night's was horror movie-scary, and I flippin' loved it.
As with any dream, the beginning was hazy and irretrievable, but the first thing I remember is being in a dirty, dilapidated apartment building with extraordinarily long, steep, and narrow staircases. A sloppy, overweight, old man met me there and took me up to his apartment to give me something (I'm not sure what). Several trashy-looking people occupied the apartment, and while I was waiting for the old man to return, one of them became this weird zombie/demon hybrid with huge, sharp teeth and distorted features. He started attacking people, and as in any good zombie movie, those he bit became infected and went on the attack, while the rest of us escaped, banded together, and tried to get to safety.
I’m notorious for yelling at horror movies. You know, giving the characters some helpful suggestions for the proper course of action. My initial advice is always the same: once the immediate danger has passed, for God's sake find a weapon. I’m proud to say that in my dream, I heeded my own advice and grabbed the first length of metal I could find, a piece from some kind of industrial shelving. When the zombie-demons came back, however, every swing of my bludgeon was slow and powerless, and I kept missing by a mile. At this point, I must have been making some gnarly noises in my sleep, because my wife gently shook me and asked if I was alright. I remember answering “Yes,” and eagerly getting back to my nightmare.
I have no idea how long my dream was, but it seemed feature length to me. The other survivors and I fended off multiple zombie attacks while navigating our way through a labyrinthian industrial landscape. The freakiest scenes took place in those narrow stairwells, where my companions were picked off one by one until I was left as the Final Dude. Eventually, I found my way out of the maze of buildings and staggered out into the street, expecting at any moment to be overtaken by legions of zombies. To my surprise, the hoardes awaiting me were shoppers and business people on their way to work. Then my zombified companions reappeared, smiling and removing their fake teeth. In that moment, I had two realizations: A) the attack was actually a Zombie Holocaust Preparedness Drill, and B) I was not actually experiencing this firsthand, but was watching a really good zombie movie with a twist ending I never expected.
From there, the dream shifted perspective, and I was watching this movie when my wife walked in and I started raving about how good the movie was. Then I restarted the movie and made her watch it with me from the beginning.  This time the movie was slightly different and started with my wife and I watching the very movie we were simultaneously living. We were in that creepy apartment building, and for some reason I needed I change of clothes.  The movie had scared me so much that I didn’t want to be anywhere near the staircases, so instead of heading home for my own clothes, I started searching around in the old man’s dresser for some clothes I could borrow. While I was riffling through the drawers, the zombie attack began anew, and played out pretty much the same way as the first time.
For some reason, I was under the impression that I was watching the 2009 French film, Mutants. I haven’t actually seen Mutants yet, so I was stoked that it was so good that I watched it twice in a row (just yesterday I wrote that Dead Alive is the only movie I’ve done that with). But as soon as I thought about this fact, I realized I wasn’t watching a movie at all, but dreaming one. I was really disappointed because I knew that the real Mutants could never be as good as the one in my dream.  Shortly after this realization, my alarm went off. I hit snooze automatically and went right back into the dream.
This time the story had started over, back at the sleazy apartment. My wife said, “Let’s try something different this time,” and before the zombie attack started, she led me to a well-hidden corner of the industrial complex, where we would try to wait out the drill in relative peace. It seemed like an okay hiding place, until a bum showed up and wanted to know why we were in his favorite drinking spot. We left promptly and found an identical hiding place around another corner. This time, however, the spot was crowded with other people who had the same idea. We squished in anyway, with me right next to the only entrance. And sure enough, a zombie popped her head in, practically in my lap. But instead of attacking, she said, “Is it cool if I hang out in here? I don’t have the energy to do this again.” Punchline delivered, I woke up with a big smile on my face.
Groggy as I was, I briefly thought, hell, maybe I’ll adapt my dream into a screenplay. Of course, as I went through the details of the dream in the shower, I realized its ridiculous dream logic would never work as a film. But in a way, it was better than a movie. It was a vicarious experience that delivered all the fear and violence in a way a movie never could. Who cares if it made no damn sense? Besides, I got to watch zombie movies all night long, and still got a full night's sleep.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dollar Bin Horror's 30 Days of Horror Challenge: Catch-Up Session #3

Day 13: Favorite Horror Comedy

Peter Jackson’s epic gorefest, Dead Alive (aka Braindead) has the special distinction of being the only movie I’ve ever watched twice in a row. Back when I was first exposed to Dead Alive, I made it my personal mission to show it to everyone I possibly could. On one occasion, I had brought my unrated copy (it is essential not to watch the R-rated version by mistake) to a friend’s house, one who happened to be a hardcore Christian. Needless to say, it blew his effing mind. When the movie had around 5 minutes to go, another of our mutual friends showed up and wanted to know what in Hell we were watching. I convinced my Christian friend to sit through the whole bloody mess all over again. Good times.
I also screened scenes from Dead Alive in a college literature course entitled “Comic and Tragic Visions.” I paired the “I kick ass for the Lord” scene with the murder scene from Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures to illustrate how a shift in tone makes all the difference between comedy and tragedy. The splatterfest of Dead Alive is more violent by a power of ten, but it doesn’t seem that way because it is played for laughs. Meanwhile, the single murder in Heavenly Creatures manages to be deeply disturbing, even though little of the violence is actually shown.
Also, raise your hand if you spotted the Sumatran Rat Monkey crate in the cargo hold of the ship in King Kong.

Day 14: Favorite Zombie Movie

I could easily have swapped my #13 and #14 picks, but Shaun of the Dead seemed more of a traditional zombie movie, so it gets this spot. While there are plenty of excellent walking dead films out there, and I had to think long and hard about placing Shaun above Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead, there’s simply no other zombie movie that I could watch any time, no matter what mood I’m in.
Another reason Shaun gets the zombie, rather than horror comedy, distinction is that it pulls off that rarest of feats: it manages to be funny and scary in equal measure. Even more amazing than that, it gives you a good dose of the tragic and romantic as well. The scene where Bill Nighy bites it is heart-wrenching, even though he has been depicted as an overbearing jerk until that moment. And you can’t help but root for Shaun to save his relationship through heroism in the face of zombie holocaust. In short, Shaun of the Dead has everything you could possibly want from a film.

Day 15:  Favorite horror film involving serial killers

Now, if you restrict this category to movies about actual serial killers, I’d have to go with none of the above. I don’t watch those films, fascinated as I might be by the subject matter. The problem I have with serial killer biopics is that they cash in on genuine tragedy and exploit real human deaths at the expense of the loved ones of the victims. Imagine being the parent of someone murdered by the BTK killer, then going to the video store and having to stomach the presence of a cheap flick profiting from the worst thing that has ever happened to your family.
Luckily, there are plenty of fictional serial killers to choose from, and my favorite among them is the debonair yet unhinged yuppie scumbag Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. In adapting Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, director Mary Herron wastes no opportunity to viciously skewer the empty-suit Wall Street parasites that populate this 1980’s period piece.  Bateman is all surface with no depth, constantly reiterating that he is empty inside and while he looks the part of a human being, he has no human emotions. The film goes to great lengths to illustrate that he could be speaking for any one of his equally soulless colleagues and be right on the money. The difference: he’s a serial killing sociopath just clinging to the last vestiges of normalcy. (Spoiler alert) Or is he? Herron ends the film with a perfect sense of ambiguousness over whether Bateman’s killing sprees have actually occurred, or if he’s just lost his ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.
If you like your horror with a dose of social commentary, American Psycho is the way to go. And while you can argue that the yuppie-bashing gets a little heavy-handed at times, to me it never gets old.

Day 16: Favorite Childhood-Themed Horror Movie

Poltergeist. No contest.
When you watch Poltergeist as a kid, it goes straight for all the classic childhood fears: evil clowns, things under the bed, scary trees, ghosts, being abducted, and the presence of demonic forces. It’s like Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg set out to traumatize an entire generation. The beauty of this film is that when you revisit it as a parent, it is ten times worse. There’s an instinctual thing that kicks in when you have kids, and your greatest fears suddenly shift off of yourself and onto your offspring. You no longer fear being abducted; you fear your kids will be.  And when Zelda Rubenstein tells you the abductor is “The Beast,” the chills are convulsive. JoBeth Williams gives the outstanding performance of the film, and I can no longer watch her most emotional scenes without tearing up myself. 
On the downside, some of the special effects are incredibly dated. I’m sure members of the younger generation encountering Poltergeist for the first time will find much of it laughable (the tree eating the kid, the researcher tearing swathes of bloody latex off his fakey-looking skull, etc.). Fortunately, the most chilling sequences don’t rely heavily on special effects (the stacked chairs, Zelda Rubenstein’s speech, skeletons in the unfinished pool). It seems like a film about due for a remake, but I hope they think twice. We don’t want any more dead children on our hands.

Day 17: Favorite Horror Film Remake

It seems like everybody’s main complaint about modern American horror is the dominance of remakes. And I’ll admit, it is getting annoying. But in general, I’m pretty open to remakes and don’t mind if they stray significantly from the source material.  For instance, I found a lot to like about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. It strayed so far from the original, I think it could have held up as its own film with no ties to the original franchise. All they would have had to do was put Leatherface in a Luchador mask or something, and voila, you’ve got a new horror franchise. That said, the movie is pretty uneven, and for every scene that works, there’s another that falls completely flat.
The TCM remake I’d classify as a reboot, because the filmmakers set out to create a new vision of familiar material. There’s another form of remake that generally pisses me off to no end. That is the American remake of a foreign film. But I kind of understand the phenomenon—Americans as a rule simply don’t watch foreign language films (and thus deserve what they get when the remake falls laughably short of the original). Oddly enough, my favorite remake falls into this bastard category. Matt Reeves’s Let Me In preserves everything that was good about the original Let the Right One In, and somehow manages to improve it.
I do admit I like the way the swimming pool scene was done better in the original, but the addition of the car crash scene more than makes up for it. Since I’ve already written about this film on my other blog Films My Spouse Made Me Watch, I’ll direct you there for additional thoughts on the film.

Day 18: Favorite Foreign Horror Film

This is a tough one, because most of my favorites from the last decade have been foreign (specifically European). But one film does seem to stand above the rest as an example of next-level, game changing horror. For me, Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs lived up to and surpassed all the praise that horror bloggers have piled on it. I tried not to read too much about it in advance, because well, that’s the advice I was given. So forgive me if I write mainly in generalities—I simply love Martyrs too much to ruin it for anyone.
The little I read about Martyrs had me expecting a film that was terribly disturbing, but not scary. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The movie starts out pants-wetting terrifying, but becomes something altogether different in its second half. It is a film that brings a strange kind of beauty to its brutality. Martyrs ends up being one of the most thought-provoking films I’ve seen in any genre, and perhaps someday I’ll try to do it justice with a proper discussion. But for now, I’m content to just caress the DVD case and stare at it in awe.
Are we there yet? Not quite. But my hands are cramping up. I’ll be back for a triple entry tomorrow, then see if I can’t keep up for the rest of the challenge.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dollar Bin Horror's 30 Days of Horror Challenge Catch-Up Session #2

Considering that this challenge involves discussing one horror favorite per day for 30 days, I hereby declare myself a resounding failure.  But heck, that’s never stopped me before, so on with the countdown I say…

Day 10: Favorite Psychological Horror Film

I was having trouble coming up with anything in this category until I reframed it as “Favorite Mindfuck Film.”  Then the choice clearly had to be a David Cronenberg film, and what film is more exemplary of his particular brand of madness than Videodrome?  Aside from James Woods and Deborah Harry at their best, what I love about Videodrome is the way it lends itself to endless readings. The movie was made in the early days of home video, but its themes apply just as easily to our current web-dominated world—Themes such as the blurred line between media and reality, thought-control, and violence as entertainment.
I won’t even pretend to understand what Videodrome is all about, and I’ve never been able to decipher a coherent message from the film. That, perhaps, is its brilliance. Each time I think I’ve grasped a clear message, I find another way that the film subverts it, which leads me to endlessly puzzle over the enigma that is Videodrome.
I realize I’ve been discussing the film almost entirely in the abstract, so for those who haven’t seen it, Videodrome deals with a television station that airs programs appealing to people’s baser instincts (mostly softcore porn and violent content). James Woods plays the president of the station who is looking to find something even edgier and sleazier, and finds it in a pirate broadcast called Videodrome. The program consists entirely of torture and murder, which he mistakes as being staged, but is actually real. When he begins pirating and airing the broadcast, he eventually learns that watching Videodrome causes brain tumors in viewers. These tumors cause them to hallucinate weird crap like beta machines forming in their chest cavities. One could read this as symbolizing the destructive nature of violent entertainment, but that reading is undermined as Woods delves deeper into the mysteries behind Videodrome and discovers a government conspiracy at the heart of it all.  The halluncinatory sequences make the audience question how much of this conspiracy is real and how much is paranoid delusion.
I suspect that the film sets out to pose intriguing questions rather than to send any clear message. Regardless, Videodrome is a fascinating piece of work that is meant to be experienced rather than understood.
Day 11: Favorite Sci-Fi Horror

First off, props to Brandon for his pick. Hardware is one-of-a-kind and very effective. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I have to go with Event Horizon. I know, neither Event Horizon nor its director Paul W.S. Anderson have exactly a sterling reputation, but damn it, I can’t help loving them both. The atmosphere that Anderson and crew give to the Event Horizon (the titular starship of the film) is oppressive and sinister. The hallucination sequences are creepy and effective, and the cast delivers on the gravity needed to sell the premise.
The premise is this, the Event Horizon,  a ship was designed to open a gateway in spacetime (and thus travel faster than lightspeed), but ended up opening a gateway into another dimension, one that is pretty much synonymous with Hell. While the premise is nothing spectacularly original, the film presents it with style and an overwhelming sense of dread. The action and suspense sequences work well, and I’m puzzled as to why so many people disliked it. But dislike it they did, and it ended up being a huge box office bomb (Videodrome bombed too – why is it my favorite movies tend to be box office failures?)
It’s too bad that DVD technology was just starting to be introduced when Event Horizon was released, because apparently the original cut of the film was much more violent and test audiences were too disturbed by it (a sure sign of a good horror movie), but the studio saw no real reason to preserve the cut footage. These days directors shoot footage they know won’t make the theatrical cut, because they know they can give you the real deal when the Unrated DVD comes out.
Day 12: Favorite Occult-Themed Horror Film

While there will always be a special place in my heart for cheesy Satanic/occult flicks, I had to go with a sincerely awesome one.  Alan Parker’s Angel Heart is just about perfect in every way. Mickey Rourke at the height of his coolness, Lisa Bonet at the peak of her hotness, and Robert DeNiro when he was still menacing. There’s also an indescribable quality about the cinematography that I love. Everything looks gritty and sweaty and dirty—just the right atmosphere for an occult-themed neo-noir film.
The outstanding sequence of the film is the notorious, blood-soaked sex scene between Rourke and Bonet that earned the film its  X-rating. Yes, Angel Heart is so old they still used X. The other aspect of the film that may be a bit dated is the ending. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is great and perfectly suited to the film, but these days it might a little predictable. Back in 1987 though, it was fresh and surprising.
Well, it seems I’m starting to run out of steam with this entry, so I’ll break it off here and tackle the next three films tomorrow. Adieu

Sunday, April 3, 2011

MMM Blogfest 2011: The Wrap-up

It's been a fun four days, but all good things must come to a grisly, horrifying end.  After yesterday's entry, I didn't feel much like writing, so I saved up my blogging for one final blowout. Wanna hear it? Here it goes:

The Roost

Sadly, I fell asleep about halfway through and woke up right at the end. From what I saw, however, I can say that Ti West's feature debut displays his inventive visual style and features solid performances by a cast of mostly unknown actors. Unfortunately, it also features terrible pacing that left me mostly bored throughout and was probably responsible for me drifting off. To be fair, I'm certain I missed the best part of the movie, and I'll write a proper post on this once I've rewatched it.

Scream & Scream 2

When I finally woke up, I decided I'd just throw in something I've seen a million times so that I could feel free to fall asleep again. I hadn't seen Scream in years, and with the 4th film coming soon, I thought I should refresh my memory. I was immediately struck by two things. First, I'm freakin' old. I didn't think of Scream as being that old a movie, but it already feels dated, due in no small part to frequent pop culture references. For example, there's a reference to Ricki Lake, whose existence I had long ago wiped from my mind. Then there's the line, "You can only hear that Richard Gere gerbil story so many times before you have to believe it." I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last fifteen years I had completely divorced Richard Gere from gerbils in my mind. And when was the last time a line like, "What were you doing with a cellular phone, son?" could make any sense?

The second thing that struck me was how effective the movie still is. It's impossible not to be hooked by the opening scene with Drew Barrymore, and the whole movie perfectly balances the humor with the horror. Far from falling asleep, I fell in love with Scream all over again. I was wide awake by the time the video (and I do mean VHS tape) was over, so I immediately popped in the sequel.

I remember not liking Scream 2 nearly as much, and upon rewatching it, I don't really like it much at all. The first time around, all the meta-dialogue was fresh and innovative, but by the second film it was already tired. The major downfall of Scream 2 is that the characters aren't nearly as compelling, and you really start to see the limitations of Neve Campbell's acting ability. There are a couple of really tense and effective scenes: Sidney climbing over an unconscious Ghostface to escape the car window, for instance, and the Gale/Dewey scene in the soundbooth. But overall, it wasn't half as scary as the original and tried too hard to be clever. I actually turned this one off, went to bed, and watched the end over breakfast.

The Wicker Man (1973)

There's all kinds of coolness going on in The Wicker Man, including Christopher Lee in drag, naked girls leaping over a bonfire, and a whole town of pagans blowing the mind of an overly pious police officer. (Spoiler alert, proceed with caution)  But my major problem with the movie was that as someone with a lot of respect for neo-pagan traditions, it was off-putting that this bigoted, narrow-minded cop ends up having all his worst suspicions confirmed. While it was a clever twist to have him end up as the sacrifice, it ends up merely playing into the fear of earth-based religions, which were starting to come to prominence in Britain in the 1970s. The funny thing is, if he would have just gotten it on with the Innkeeper's daughter, he wouldn't have been a virgin, and thus unfit for sacrifice. So I guess the moral of the story is: if a hot young blonde offers you her body, you say YES! (Nerd points if you read that last sentence in an Ernie Hudson voice.)

The Abandoned

You're always rolling the dice when you pop in a selection from the After Dark Horrorfest. There are some real gems, but typically they're pretty lackluster. The Abandoned tips a little on the side of the former, but not completely. The plot involves an adopted American woman of Russian descent returning to the motherland to claim the estate of her departed birth-mother. The tension builds pretty quickly, and holds on for most of the film. There are some pretty scary moments, such as when the woman comes face-to-face with her own walking dead doppelganger. In the end, the plot becomes too complex and confusing. I'm not sure if it's actually supposed to make sense, or rather to have some sort of dream-logic to it. When the credits rolled, I was left thinking, "Well, that was pretty good," which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's better than, "Hey, I just wasted 98 minutes of my life."

Them (Ils)

Touted as the French version of The Strangers, Them is a taut film with talented and likable leads and tension that doesn't let up. But then comes the ending, which falls way flat after such an amazing build-up. The film takes its time to let you live with the main characters a bit and get a feel for their relationship and personalities. I found Olivia Bonamy's utter gorgeousness to be a bit of a distraction, but I'm not complaining. The most effective thing about Them is that you don't know how many killers are out there. Our protagonists off a bunch of them along the way, but they just keep coming. (Spoilers) That last shot when the hooded killers go straight from the murder scene to the school bus is chilling, until you start thinking about it. Honestly, if you're a teen psychotic, how easy is it to find a half dozen like-minded kids in your school district to go on murder sprees with? And when half of them are killed along the way, doesn't it affect you at all? These kids nonchalantly stroll up to the bus and go about their day. One thing's for sure though, after a long night's killing and no nutritious breakfast before school, there's no way they're staying awake in class. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Brewpub (or How Horror Movies can Make You a Better Person)

So, this is the last day of the the Triple M Blogfest 2011 and I thought I'd go all-out and but myself a growler of Montana's finest microbrew at the Blackfoot River Brewery before launching into my next horror movie marathon.  When I pulled up, the door was locked and I noticed the hours were listed as 2 pm to 8pm. I was about 20 minutes early, so I walked across the street to the Lewis and Clark County Library, which is directly across the street. I wanted to see if they had any Jack Ketchum books, since I'd covered both Offspring and The Girl Next Door this weekend. They didn't have a single title, so I just browsed for awhile before finding Caitlin R. Kiernan's From Weird and Distant Shores. I then checked to see if they had any short story collections from Joe Hill, when a strange-looking old woman approached me.

I had seen her there before; she was hard to miss because her left eye was set a half inch lower than her right, her bulbous nose was a shade of purple-red that looked like it was about to burst, and she had a prominent gray mustache and long wisps of white beard hair. I couldn't help but think, this woman has the classic look of a witch. She said, "Excuse me, but you look like an intelligent and handsome young man, and I was wondering if you'd do me a favor." Like any self-respecting horror fan, my mind immediately went to Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell. I thought, I'd better be nice to this woman, or I am going to pay the price.  So I listened to her request, "I like to go for walks, but it's raining, so would you talk quietly with me  for a while until the storm passes?"

While the paranoid horror-buff in me remained, my rational mind said, This is a woman who is lonely because people ae put off by her appearance. I don't have any obligations, and I'm just waiting for the brewpub to open, so why not do her a favor and give her a little human connection? So I said yes, that would be fine. She asked, "Will you be witty and charming?" I responded, "Well I can't guarantee that..." She laughed, "You have a sense of humor. That's good."

Like most people without an obvious physical deformity, I'm always awkward around those who do, but she addressed immediately. "Thirty-five years ago, I was in a car accident," she explained. "It did this to my eye and left me blind, unable to speak, and with no memory.  They had to remove a big part of my brain." She indicated the left side of her skull."

"Oh," I said dumbly.

"I regained sight in my right eye," she said, "and eventually I got back my memory."

"How long did that take?" I asked.

"Three or four years," she said, "My mother was a CPA, and her busiest day was always April 20th, which was the same day of my accident. I wasn't able to speak for four months, but once my memory came back, she said, of all the days to get in an accident, you picked my busiest." She laughed, and I knew her mother must have had the same sense of humor.

She told me about how she had gone, when she was in college, to Africa. She stayed mostly in Kenya, but she and her sister backpacked across the border into Uganda. She said, "At that time Idi Amin was in power, and everywhere you looked, there were men with machine guns. And I wasn't the right color."  She didn't go into any more detail, but moved on to her other travels abroad.

I figured she just wanted to tell her story to a friendly ear, but she kept moving the conversation toward me.  She asked about my life, if I had a family,what I did for fun, and whatnot. I found myself being more honest and unguarded with her than I am with most people I know much better. She told me that she used to be really shy, but after the accident, she decided she could talk to anyone. I admitted that I'm painfully shy as well, but if someone approaches me, I can carry on a pretty good conversation.

She said that after her accident, she had to go through infancy, childhood, and adolescence all over again. "So I'm 57 now," she said, "but I'm really only 35." I told her that was my exact age. Then she said, I went back to college after my accident. I couldn't take 5 courses a year, so I just took one, and eventually I earned my English degree.  Not that it would get me a job..." I told her that I also had an English Degree, and so did my wife. I double-majored in English and Film, then went back for my Master's in English. She wanted to know if I taught, and I said no, and Hollywood wasn't a good fit for me either, but I found a job doing technical writing and graphic design with the state government.

We talked for the better part of an hour. Her brain damage was still apparent, because when she was really excited, she would lapse into speech that was completely unintelligible, and I just had to smile and nod. But  she was absolutely hilarious.  She recounted the story of how her sister had given her a teddy bear as a present, even though she was a full-grown adult, and how her British brother-in-law said, "Wait, we are a respectable family, and he cannot spend the night (he indicated the teddy bear) unless you are married." She said that he performed an impromptu wedding ceremony for her and the bear, and later on in the conversation, she referenced her bulging gut and joked about being pregnant by the Teddy Bear.

Did I mention that she was a nasty old woman, telling me stories about waking up from an all-night drunk a block from her house and completely naked. She told me about answering a call from a telemarketer by moaning and telling him she was in the middle of sex.

Eventually I said I had to go, and she began to thank me. I started to protest, but she stopped me, saying "I want to thank you for finding me in that alley three weeks ago, It was the best I ever had." I laughed uproariously, because that is exactly my sense of humor. She followed up with a genuine thanks for being nice and said that our conversation would put her in a good mood for the rest of the day. I thanked her in return for the best conversation I've had in awhile. She made me promise that if I ran into her again I'd say hello. I promised, and meant it.

There's still a part of me that wants to believe she really was a witch, and that my kindness will earn me some sort of good luck charm from her, but I'm satisfied knowing that a bit of conversation made her day. It made mine as well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

MMM Blogfest 2011: The Girl Next Door

I honestly have to wonder if anyone could actually like The Girl Next Door. That's not to say that it's bad. On the contrary, it is a well-made and extraordinarily powerful film, but I can't say I liked it. I can appreciate it, but that's not quite the same thing.

This is the type of movie that you have to recover from. During the course of the movie, I found myself shouting at the screen, hugging my knees to my chest, and ultimately shedding a few tears. It made me angrier than any other film has, and I've been wandering aimlessly around my house for the past hour, unable to get it out of my head. I suppose I'm a bit of a masochist, but as a horror fan, that's exactly the kind of reaction that I live for. When it happens, you're no longer just watching a movie, you're having a profound experience.

I've gotten through other films that are similarly hard to watch, Martyrs in particular comes to mind, but while I love Martyrs, I can't say the same for this film. So what's the difference? For one thing, Martyrs starts out full of horror movies conventions before it takes you to unexpected and vile places. It is scary and disturbing from the get-go. Not so for The Girl Next Door. It begins in a normal suburban neighborhood full of kids just entering their teens who are still enjoy a playful romp through the woods. The kids are realistically rendered characters who aren't a bunch of wild-eyed innocents; they have their moments of cruelty and are playing at adulthood by cussing and talking about sex. The characters felt like kids I knew at that age, just clinging to the last vestiges of innocence. There's even a sweet little episode of puppy-love that sets the audience up for a major fall. Sure it's emotionally manipulative, but that's what movies are.

The Girl Next Door doesn't so much pull the rug out from under you as it escalates, little by little, into one of the most depraved scenarios possible. It's a slow build that leads you to an almost overwhelming dread of what's going to happen next.

The most disturbing element of the film is that the neighborhood children so easily become monsters when given permission by an adult to be as cruel as they please. The torture of a young girl becomes their new game, and they eagerly invite others to witness and participate. You have to wonder how the filmmakers and the child actors' parents dealt with the psychological impact of acting out such atrocious scenarios. They are taking part in horrors that no child should have to see.

On some level, this is an exploitation film, but then, so are all horror movies. The thing that sets it apart from pure exploitation is that it deals with profound themes like the loss of innocence, mob mentality and people's capacity for cruelty, the powerlessness of children, the repression of 1950s America, and the difficult choices that we sometimes fail to make, or make too late. Like I said, this is powerful stuff. If you watch The Girl Next Door, don't expect to be entertained. Expect to be confronted with the darkest side of humanity that we push away in order to stay sane.

MMM Blogfest 2011: Lost Boys - The Thirst

I don't want to write too much about this "film," because I'm pretty sure I'll start sobbing uncontrollably. The fascinating thing about the second Lost Boys sequel is how it simultaneously panders to fans of the original and alienates them. It endlessly rehashes lines from the original for "comic" effect, ensuring that only people who know the original fairly well will get the joke. Then it alienates that audience by sucking hardcore. Like Lost Boys - The Tribe, it takes everything about the original and shits on it.

In the original, the vampires are the epitome of cool (well, if you grew up in the 80's). They live in an abandoned hotel that was swallowed up in an earthquake, they ride motorcycles with their chic buttrock hair flapping behind them, and their exude an aura of menace even when they're not vamped out. In the first sequel, The Tribe, the vampires are a bunch of extreme sports-loving Jackass rejects who are more annoying than menacing. In The Thirst, most of them seem to be bondage gear-clad chicks who look like video game characters designed to turn on lonely adolescents. The original boasted the intense, brooding Kiefer Sutherland as the leader of the vampire boys club, who makes his spiky mullet look badass.  The second film casts Sutherland's half-brother Angus as the sensitive, effeminate vampire leader who wants nothing more than to find a vampire BFF. "I wanted to find someone who can challenge me," he lisps, sounding like Butthead when he's trying to hook up with a honey. Meanwhile, the vampire leader in The Thirst, I shit you not, is called DJ-X, a rave-throwing turntablist who hands out vampire blood as a party drug. Lame. Ass. Shit.

I don't want to get too down on Corey Feldman, since he's brought me so much pleasure over the years, so I'll skip the part where I talk about his performance.

The maddening part of this movie is that it comes off as intentionally cheesy, like they weren't even trying to make a good film. And to give credit where credit is due, there are some pretty funny one-liners that actually had me laughing aloud. But for every good line, there were 9 groaningly bad ones. So, please suppress your urge to be a completest and skip this turd.

MMM Blogfest 2011: Offspring

Do you ever watch a film where you can hear in your mind how the dialogue is meant to be delivered, which is totally at odds with how the actors are doing it? Offspring is plagued with this problem. This is a shame, because it mars what is otherwise a pretty brilliant piece of filmmaking. Not that the performances are uniformly bad, but there are far too many lines that fall flat and seem amatuerish. The acting seems to break along gender lines, that is, all of the females in the film are pretty terrific, while most every male kinda sucks.

But don't let this put you off, Offspring turns out to be a powerfully disturbing, brutal-as-hell movie that leaves your stomach in knots. While the premise is fairly preposterous, director Andrew Van Der Houten totally sells the reality of a cannibalistic clan of feral people hiding out in the woods of Maine and staging brutal home invasions to collect human meat and babies. The gore is copious and well-done, and once the dialogue stops and the screaming starts, the performances improve vastly.

Pollyanna McIntosh gives the standout performance of the film as Woman, the leader of the clan who plays a savage like she was plucked straight from a secluded cave where she was raised by wolverines. She is absolutely terrifying and vicious, throwing herself fully into a role that could potentially have sunk the movie, had they cast a lesser actress. In looking up her name on IMDb, I discovered that she reprises this role in Lucky McKee's The Woman. As if I weren't already chomping at the bit to see it. Now I want to track down everything she's been in. She's that good.

 The verdict: despite its flaws, Offspring is a powerful viewing experience that left me in something of a daze when it was over. I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for days to come. Don't miss this one.