Sunday, November 4, 2012

Finally Recovered from Halloween

Hey there y'all,

Now that I've truly earned my reputation as the world's least reliable horror blogger, I thought I'd take a minute and show you what I've been up to, because, as you know, it certainly hasn't been blogging. I'm not bored with horror or anything. I'm still on a steady diet of blood and guts, and I've seen quite a few worth writing about. I still take mental notes about what I'm going to say here on the blog. Then I let a few days slip away. I tell myself I'll get back to the blog on the weekend, and I don't. Before I know it, a month has gone by and I feel like it's too late. But this time I've only let 4 days go by without a report on my Halloween goings-on, so I'm patting myself on the back while simultaneously rubbing my tummy.

So without further doo-doo, here's what I've been doing for the past two months: I've been elbow-deep in paper. No, not paperwork, thankfully, but paper clay. This fantastic and supercheap modelling compound is made with recycled newsletters from my workplace, wallboard joint compound, flour, Elmer's glue, and water. Check out some of my custom Halloween props:

Keep in mind that these are early attempts, and I should get better. This all came about because I was helping my 9-year-old build some Uruk-Hai armor as his Halloween costume. I got the techniques from a kick-ass little website called Stolloween, which has all kinds of tutorials and great props by a talented papier mache artist who is fanatical about all things Halloween.

Here's a few shots of what our Halloween display looked like. We didn't go all-out this year, but we still got our fair share of compliments from the trick-or-treaters. Keep in mind that I made the papier mache spiders last year before I learned all my groovy new techniques. I'll probably revisit them and add some detail for next year.

All-in-all, it was a pretty low-key affair this year. Highlights of the 2012 Halloween season included an Egyptian-themed corn/hay-maze in Missoula, and taking my son to a double-feature screening of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Even though he'd seen them before, he was pretty stoked and had a great time. And I gained an even greater appreciation for both the original film (I always liked Bride better, until now) and for Boris Karloff. If you can pull off the trick of watching the films with a 1930's mindset, there are some pretty scary moments and a real sense of danger for the characters who are near the monster when he's attacking. Here's to hoping Fathom events brings back more classic monster movies to theaters, or even more recent classic horror. What I wouldn't give to watch The Shining in an honest-to-god movie theater.

Speaking of The Shining, I've got to plug my friends Jeff and Tucker over at the If We Made It Podcast. Their Halloween episode revisits both The Shining and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. If you've never experienced the glorious madness of these two dudes talking film, this is definitely a good episode to begin with. Particularly because I make a guest appearance and give my reviews of Sinister and Paranormal Activity 4. Do check it out.

Alright, now let's see if I can get in a couple more posts before the month is out. Well, we can always hope. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Dilemma of Theater-Going (As Exemplified by The Possession)

I try to catch most horror films during their theatrical release. This is because I firmly believe that every dollar you spend at the box office is a vote cast for the kind of movies you want to see produced. I want more horror movies, so I support horror movies with my hard-earned cash. The trouble is, of course, that you don’t know if a movie is any good until after you’ve plunked down your $8.50 for the ticket. I try to avoid reading advance reviews, because I find they color my perception too much, so my only resource in deciding whether or not to see a movie is its preview, which we all know can be horribly misleading.
I skipped The Chernobyl Diaries because it looked terrible, and I missed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter because I want to cast my vote for horror movie intended to actually be scary. I shelled out some bucks to see The Devil Inside back in February, and turned out to be to one person aside from the director’s mother that actually liked the film (and I’m just assuming about dude’s mom).  Demonic possession movies just work for me, owing to a massive childhood fear of The Exorcist. So when I saw the trailer for The Possession, I thought it looked pretty promising, despite its being PG-13. It had a strong cast and some pretty creepy visuals, and it had been so long since a horror movie opened in a theater near me, so the decision was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, so was the film.
The Possession claims to be inspired by true events, but it turns out the true event is that someone was selling a box on Ebay that they claimed contained a Jewish demon, or Dybbuk. Several people have bought and sold the box, each claiming strange phenomena and nightmares (plus the scent of cat urine and Jasmine flowers – you take the good with the bad, I guess) had followed the purchase--claims that surely increased the value of the box with each resale. The worst things reported to have happened were an uncannily-times stroke and some hair falling out. Nothing about possession, fork stabbings, or swarms of moths as portrayed in the movie. But hey, a horror movie about lost hair just doesn’t sell tickets.
Anything even remotely creepy in the film had already been covered in the preview, and all the “scares” just fell utterly flat. The Possession, notably, resists the well-worn staple of mainstream horror, the jump-scare. Instead, it builds up a slight amount of tension, then projects the scare a mile away, revealing the scary figure looming behind someone early enough that when the character finally sees it, it has become another piece of set-dressing for the audience. I’ll take jump scares over this any day.
What The Possession doesn’t  steal from The Exorcist it cribs from recycled American J-horror. Yeah, fingers emerging from the back of someone’s throat seems like a scary idea, but that same kind of thing was done way better in The Grudge.
On the upside, the performances were very good, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgewick as recently divorced parents juggling childrearing duties, each giving a heartfelt and real performance. Likewise, the young girl who played the recipient of the shiny, new demon did an admirable job. So much so that the film really should have worked. I was sucked in by the relationships and the characters, but that never translated into horror at seeing their lives torn apart by demonic possession.
So, a total waste of money, right? Not entirely. This is one of those cases where the experience of going to the theater for a communal experience really paid off. As utterly ineffective “scares” and disappointment piled up, I became increasingly fascinated by the 2 teenage girls in the front row (and not for the reason you think, perv). They were screaming at everything and getting off priceless one-liners like “Do NOT touch the box!” in total seriousness. One of them drew her legs up to her chest and was peeking out at the screen from behind her knees. When something “scary” would happen, she wouldn’t just look away, but turn her whole body away, nearly in a laying position. At one point I thought she was literally going to start crying. It got to the point the whenever the tension would start to amp up, I’d stop watching the movie and watch them instead. Grizzled horror movie veteran that I am, I found this hilarious.
Near the end it got so intense for them that the one with the stronger constitution started making dumb jokes just to calm the other down. Then they started to get giggly, which might have annoyed me at a movie I was into, but in this case I was just interested in their coping techniques. Then, in mid-giggle the movie pulled out its one and only effective jump-scare, and they simultaneously erupted into blood-curdling screams that put to shame anything onscreen. That was it, directly behind them, I let out a howl of laughter and for the first time that night I thought to myself, “I’m so glad I saw this in the theater.”
It just goes to show that no matter how trite and overdone these horror conventions might be to us, jaded hardcore horror fans that we are, it’s always someone’s first scary movie. It would serve us well to remember that most horror films that get a national release were not made for us who count Martyrs and The Devil’s Rejects among our favorites. They’re made for the widest possible audience—the ones who might catch one horror movie a year, and a PG-13 one at that.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kermit the Frog Talks House By the Cemetery

Okay, it's not really Kermit the Frog. That's just the way I characterize my own voice when I hear it played back. That's right, you too now have the chance to cringe at the annoying sound of my recorded voice. Thanks to a generous offer from the fine fellows at the If We Made It Podcast, I recently got the opportunity to not only appear on my first podcast, I also got to choose this week's film.

I missed my chance to join the If We Made It crew for their discussion of my favorite movie ever, The Lost Boys (I was invited, I just don't check my e-mail often enough), my consolation prize was my very own episode. I went with Lucio Fulci's House By the Cemetery because it intrigues me to no end. It starts out unintentionally hilarious, with all the hallmarks of a classic late 70s/early 80s giallo (the bad dubbing, the disconnected plot, etc.), it picks up midway with some great gore, and by the end, it always has me by the throat. As big a mess as the movie is, it absolutely works on me at the gut/nightmare/childhood fear level.

Anyway, I discuss it at great length with Jeff and Tucker. Please give it a listen:
YES! I want to hear some hot Kermit on Fulci Action!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Blame Aliens for The Hills Have Eyes 2

Just to be clear, I’m not claiming that literal extra-terrestrials are responsible for the 2007 follow-up to Alexandre Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Nor am I saying that the film-makers were foreign-born and shooting in America illegally. Rather, I’m placing the blame for this sequel squarely on the shoulders of James Cameron.

It’s not just The Hills Have Eyes though. There’s also [REC]2, Hatchet II, and to some extent Child’s Play 3 and even The Descent Part 2. That’s right, ever since Cameron’s space marines faced off against Ridley Scott’s classic xenomorphs, horror has suffered from what I like to call Horror Sequel Militarization  Syndrome. That is, a growing number of horror sequels involve sending the military (or police in the case of The Descent 2) to investigate the original threat and succumbing to it as well. In some cases, it’s really the logical next step in the story, but it’s rarely a good idea. Here’s why.

The rationale behind the military-minded horror sequel is that it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to display how utterly badass their franchise’s villain is. Anybody can pick off a bunch of stoned-out-of-their-gourds teenagers, but the meanmotherfuckerdom it takes to annihilate a squadron of highly trained soldiers is the stuff of legends. This, supposedly, makes the villain truly unstoppable and thus much, much scarier, right?

How Badass Do You Have to be to Fuck with Vasquez?

Except that it doesn’t.  As I like to repeat to the point of cliché, the fear you experience in a horror film comes from placing yourself in the victim’s shoes and vicariously experiencing the danger. When the partying teens enter the woods/desert/abandoned house, they are unprepared to fend off the threat they’re about to face. This helplessness is what generates sympathetic feelings in the viewer, and thus causes us to fear for them.
This is the whole reason The Final Girl is such a potent archetype. She’s usually the virginal one, not because she’s pure, but because she’s not empowered by her sexuality. Take Laurie Strode, for instance.  John Carpenter, progressive-minded fellow that he is, wasn’t slut-shaming making Laurie the survivor. Lynda and Annie are the confident, risk-taking types who aren’t afraid to go after what they want. Laurie is the mousy, obedient one, and thus the one that comes off as the most helpless. Of course, as with all final girls, there’s more to her than you expect, and she’s able to summon the inner strength to survive her ordeal.
So what happens when the victims become heavily-armed warriors? In a nutshell, we don’t fear for them as much because they project strength, and rather than running, they’re usually confronting the enemy head-on. Thus, the horror sequel becomes something more akin to an action movie. Even though the protagonists’ weapons ultimately fail them, they go out fighting. And while the action may get your blood pumping, it’s not the same as fear.
Take One Mutant with a Meat Cleaver...

Add Six Heavily-Armed Professional Soldiers...

...And You Get One Neutered-Ass Horror Flick

I know what you’re saying. “But Aliens kicks Ass right in the balls.” And indeed it does. It’s one of my favorite action movies ever, and 3 out of 5 times, I’ll choose to watch it over the original (yeah Alien is better, but Aliens is more rewatchable). And Cameron even manages to make it genuinely scary in spots. In short, I have no complaints about Aliens, just the tendency to militarize horror sequels.
This militarization is especially troublesome in The Hills Have Eyes 2, because it undermines the whole premise and selling point of the film. The concept here is that the mutants aren’t simply out to kill and eat people anymore; this time they’re seeking women to keep captive as breeders. It’s a chilling thought, and one that would have been better served by a film with less testosterone. There are a scant 2 female characters out of a squad of around 10, and as soldiers, they’re some tough chicks.

Not Exactly Helpless

What was so disturbing about the original (and the remake thereof) is that the victims were just an ordinary family that included the most helpless of humans, a baby. While the dad was a retired cop who was armed, he was also the first to go, leaving the rest of the family without a protector.
For the sequel, I’d have gone with a group of female friends on a roadtrip/bachelorette party who get ambushed by horny mutants. They’d have been unarmed and possibly hung over. When half of them are captured and drug off to the caves for repeated raping, the others would have to go in after them with little more than a tire iron as defense. That would have been some scary shit. Soldiers… meh. Kill or be killed is pretty much what they signed up for (no disrespect to any soldiers reading this, I just figure y’all know how to take care of yourselves).
In the end, taking out a squadron of soldiers doesn't so much make the mutants look like a formidable enemy, it just makes the soldiers look completely inept. But then, the dialogue already did that before the first mutant showed his bad complexion.
So what do you think? Do military-minded horror sequels work? Which ones did I leave out? Sound off in the comments, yo.
Sloth Loves Chunk!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Watch Angry - When Horror Pisses You Off, and Not Because the Movie Sucked

Like any decent horror hound, I enjoy the physical sensation of fear that horror films can induce. I love the building suspense that precedes a big scare-how the tension of the film is mirrored in my tensing muscles. And I love the orgasmic release when something on the screen makes you jump in your seat, makes you scream, and finally makes you laugh at yourself for being ridiculous and because it feels wonderful to let go of all that tension in one explosive outburst.

I live for that shit.

But there's another element of horror, one that you can't laugh off because it hits you where you're vulnerable. You don't scream; you don't laugh; and the tension doesn't leave. It squats in your guts and festers, making you sick, making you shake not with fear, but anger. Maybe you've been there, maybe you've just feared being there, but something in the film has found your weak spot and is poking at it, clawing and jabbing with a jagged-toothed grin and eyes filled with sick pleasure.

I don't know if you've experienced anything like this, but I've found a pattern with myself: nothing enrages me more than people being preyed on by teenaged bullies. I don't know where this comes from, (getting old I guess) but twice in as many days I've felt my blood pressure rocket after watching scenes with thuggish, violent teenagers.

The first wasn't even a horror movie. It was actually the "Bully" episode of Louie CK's show "Louie." He's on a date that is, for perhaps the first time in the series, actually going well. He's taken his lady-friend out for some after-hours doughnuts, when 5 rowdy high-schoolers bust in and start making noise. After Louie asks them to quiet down, one of them comes over, introduces himself with a smile, and after some subtly threatening banter, makes Louis ask him not to kick his ass. And the whole time I'm watching this, I'm turning red in the face and screaming at Louie to karate chop the fucker in the throat, all the while knowing that he's actually doing the right thing by diffusing the situation and wondering if I'd do the same.

The second movie that had my blood boiling was Attack the Block. The opening scene where the five kids surround and mug the nurse made me livid. She sees their silhouettes from a distance and crosses the street to avoid them, but two of the kids shoot past her on bikes, then circle back to guard her rear as the remaining three approach from the front. Knowing what kind of movie this was, I couldn't get too worked up, because I was fairly certain they weren't going to rape and beat her to death, but it bothered me that she was in this helpless position where something really ugly could have happened. The kids' methods were animalistic; they found a vulnerable victim who had strayed from the herd, then used pack hunting tactics to get what they wanted. I so fucking hate that about human beings. And I knew that these thugs were going to turn out to be the main characters, so I was even more pissed that they had pretty much ruined the movie for me right off the bat.

Attack the Block, however, knows what it's doing and manipulates your fears and prejudices only to turn them around and shove them back in your face, making you feel like the asshole. By the end, even I was rooting for the kids and regarding a few of them as real heroes. Sure, the social commentary gets pretty ham-fisted, but the story is good, and it turned out to be a really fun alien invasion flick. Props!

But the one movie that had me enraged pretty much from beginning to end was Eden Lake. The thing that bothered me so much was that there was one psychotic teenager responsible for everything, and his friends who went along with him, as well as his victims, were too cowardly to stand up to him. With Eden Lake, this anger was used to fantastic effect, getting the audience's emotions high and giving the suspense scenes some real stakes. The protagonists are ordinary people, and thus not particularly interesting, but I found myself emotionally invested in their survival simply because I despised their adversaries so intensely. Still, the movie had me so worked up that any release the ending could bring was not enough. I left the film exhausted and thoroughly stressed out.

I bring these examples up simply to illustrate one of the great functions of horror: self-discovery. Up until about yesterday, I had no idea that thuggish teenagers were among my fears. Horror movies helped me discover the patterns in my own psyche, and though I'm not yet sure where they come from, at least now I know. Forewarned is foreskinned, they say.

I am puzzled by the source of this fear. I've never really been bullied, and back in the day I managed to talk my way out of the few fights that presented themselves. But in my old age I've lost some of that youthful resiliency, particularly my ability to bounce back emotionally from a taunt. Now I wonder if I'd back down, or if I'd totally Hulk out on someone who tried to threaten or demean me. My temper is so shitty these days that I might just start biting throats. Too bad I don't actually know how to fight.

And maybe that's the key. That's where I feel most vulnerable - situations where you could plausibly fight back, but being a civilized human being, you go to great lengths to avoid having to, and you're unprepared.

You see what just happened there? Horror viewing may have revealed my fears to me, but it was horror blogging that let me discover their source. I knew there was a rational reason for me to be doing this.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Genre Film to End Them All - A Discussion of Cabin in the Woods

Spoiler-Free Review:

There's no shortage of doe-eyed love letters passing as reviews for Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods, so let me quickly add one more to the heap and hope it becomes the blurb on the front of the DVD cover:

Never before have the words "Instant Classic" been as apt as when applied to Cabin in the Woods. It not only explains and illuminates every other horror film; it effectively ends the genre by having it all. What could follow this? Thanks for ruining horror, assholes!" (Full disclosure: I'm prone to over-statement, especially when Hollywood does something right.)

While Cabin in the Woods is not really the end-all, be-all of horror films, it is a clever, hilarious, and balls-out gory film that surpassed even my sky-high expectations by a mile. It is destined to be a cult classic, and will doubtless become fodder for repeat viewings here at Casa de Macabre.

I'm going to leave it at that and follow suit with the legions of reviewers who have vowed to give away as little as possible, because the thrill of the surprise is half the fun (the other half being carnage, of course). And if you, like I did, thought the trailer gave pretty much everything away, well, just go see the damned movie.

Spoiler-Filled Discussion:

Alright, let's get right down to it. Wasn't that about the most batshit crazy thing you've seen since Dead Alive? I had to have the guano-eating grin surgically removed from my face after watching this. Being the Lovecraft freak that I am, the whole sacrifice for the Beast angle didn't come as much of a surprise. It was the form the 3rd act took that really blew me away. I've always dug those movies like The Monster Squad and Van Helsing that try to bring all the classic monsters together, but Cabin in the Woods includes pretty much every horror archetype ever. And you had me at werewolf. You had me at werewolf.

There's a lot of discussion going around about the social critique Cabin in the Woods makes. I see what people are saying, but I don't agree that it is necessarily a critique. I do agree that the Elder-God Beasts that need to see blood and boobies to be satisfied is really a metaphor for the audience, but many critics seem to think that this is a condemnation of our blood-thirsty sense of entertainment. I believe that Cabin in the Woods was too lovingly crafted and too knowledgeable about the horror genre to ever be a condemnation of screen violence. It is rather an acknowledgment of what Stephen King posited decades ago in Danse Macabre: we consume horror out of a primal, sub-conscious need to "Feed the Beast" within us all.

Take for instance, the treatment of the puppet-masters in the film. They have a betting pool on what form the sacrifice will take and they celebrate the imminent deaths of the unsuspecting teens with libations, music, and dancing. But at the same time, they are depicted as likable, human characters who are concerned with the same things we all go through. The opening scene is a conversation about fertility and trying to start a family. As far as villains go, they're awfully hard to hate. It would have been so easy to render them as heartless automatons delighting in the suffering of others, which would have been the case if the agenda of the film was to demonize violent entertainment.

Maybe I'm just making excuses for my macabre tastes, but honestly, who isn't fascinated by death? Violent, horrible death in particular. To me it's much more honest to just accept that human beings, no matter how civilized, no matter how strong their personal commitment to non-violence, has a violent, brutal side. Should we try to tamp it down and try to access our more temperant, gentle sides? Absolutely. Should we shun violent entertainment? Fuck no. It's a release value for the vast majority of us. Sure, violent people are drawn to violent entertainment, and are sometimes inspired by it to act on their violent urges, but at that breaking point, it could be any trigger.

I know, this debate has been done to death. What I'm getting at is that Cabin in the Woods is an unapologetic horror film. It is being embraced by mainstream critics because it is undeniably good, but it's disconcerting to me how many of them have to make it into an anti-violence manifesto in order to enjoy it. But we don't put much stock in their opinions, do we?

Also consider the treatment of the protagonists. The archetypal characters of the virgin, the whore, the jock, the brain, and the fool are well-worn clichés of the genre. The characters in Cabin in the Woods refuse to conform to these stereotypes. The jock is sociology major, the virgin has been sleeping with her professor, and the fool/stoner is the only one wise enough to understand what is going on. The puppet-masters have to employ chemicals to make the (artificial) blonde ditsy and uninhibited. When the group wisely decides to stick together for protection, only a mist of mind-clouding chemicals induced them to make the stupid mistakes that are par for the course in most horror films. And that's the quality that sets Cabin in the Woods above mindless slashers. Joss Whedon has always had a particular knack for bringing out the reality of his characters, no matter how fantastical the situations he puts them in.

The truly surprising thing about Cabin in the Woods is that it ever got made, and was allowed to stay true to its creators' vision. What isn't particularly surprising is that it sat on a shelf for 3 years before the studio worked up the balls to release it. Then again, it opened behind The Three Stooges, so maybe studio conservatism isn't entirely unfounded.

Perhaps the most delightful surprise of all was the ending. Whenever a movie actually goes where I want it to, I'm floored and exhilarated (see also Perfume). While it would have been pretty satisfying to see Dana shoot Fran to save the world, I was firmly rooting for them to let the apocalypse happen. And it led to one of the greatest lines in film history, "I'm sorry I almost let you get killed by a werewolf and then ended the world." You could plausibly say, then, that Cabin in the Woods has the highest body count in film history, even though most of it is implied.

There was a certain amount of truth in my earlier blurb, though. How can you follow this film? It deconstructs horror to an alarming degree, has every horror archetype imaginable, and ends with a bloodbath rarely seen. The weakest aspect of the film is that it isn't particularly scary, but horror fans will love it regardless. And yes, horror will continue in earnest, mining out psyches for the most disturbing and frightening images we can come up with, but it seems like we've turned some kind of a corner with Cabin in the Woods. It would be pointless to cover this territory again, and maybe that's a good thing. If we're lucky, Cabin in the Woods will inspire horror filmmakers to shun the clichés and strive to bring us something we've never seen before. That's me being optimistic, but I don't believe it for a second.

Hell, I’m just pissed that I didn’t come up with this first.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spread the Word, Monster Kids!

Exciting news folks, geeks of the world have finally decided to stand up and fight social injustice and stick it to the proverbial man. We're excercising our right to assemble online and demand that the corporate big-wigs release the decades captive unreleased footage from Clive Barker's Nightbreed. They can't keep the truth from us any longer!
Okay, so maybe it's not the most socially-conscious movement, but damn it, who among us hasn't been waiting for years to see Clive Barker's original cut of Nightbreed? And now you can do something about it. Head on over to Facebook and join up with the righteous forces of Occupy Midian.
If we get enough followers to make a restored DVD version profitable, they'll have no choice but to concede to the 0.99%. Viva la revolucion!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm a Bad, Bad Blogger

Hey there.
You might not remember me, but my name's Marvin the Macabre and I used to write a horror blog.
Yeah, it has been awhile.

The great gray beast February kicked off a season of sickness and depression here at Casa de Macabre, but things appear to be getting back to normal and regular posting should resume shortly. As for me, I've watched a metric shit-ton of horror movies, but haven't found the motivation to write about them until now. What follows is a brief rundown of what I've been watching.

Bitter Feast (2010 - dir. Joe Maggio)
Every time I visit my parents, I end up watching several hours of Food Network. I'm not a discerning foodie by any means, but I love food and love cooking, and came into this film stoked to see Mario Batalli, even if it is just a bit part. This movie seems uniquely suited to my tastes: A love for food, a perverted appetite for torture, and a disdain for critics. The plot is this: a series of scathing reviews for his restaurant ruins the career of a chef/cooking show host, so like any of us, he kidnaps the critic and makes him complete a series of culinary challenges that he punishes with starvation and/or violence should he fall short of perfection. In that way, the film itself is somewhat critic-proof.

Typically, I can't get into movies where the protagonist is as despicable as the killer, but this one kept me captivated throughout, as I found myself alternately identifying with both of them. Later in the film, the killer does extend his reign of terror to an innocent, the critic's wife, played by Amy Seimetz (who I adored in A Horrible Way to Die), to fully arouse our sympathy. While not even remotely scary and only mildly disturbing, Bitter Feast is a well-made film with a compelling story and solid performances. I dug it.

The Woods ( 2006 - dir. Lucky McKee)
Man, there aren't nearly enough movies about witches. Therefore I tend to love all of them (well, the ones that aren't just cheap T&A flicks). The Woods boasts a small dramatic role from Bruce Campbell and a major role for a very young Rachel Nichols. The standout of the bunch, though, is lead actress Agnes Bruckner, who really needs to be in more shit. Honestly though, I don't know if it's standout performance or if I just found her too adorable for words.

I loved the whole tone of this movie, from its creepy, ghost-story vibe to the atmosphere of the remote boarding school where vines from the woods penetrate into every window. The CGI at the end is mildly hokey, but didn't ruin anything for me. Once again, I dug it.

Home Sick (2002 - dir. Adam Wingard)
Followers of this blog know how stoked I was after watching Adam Wingard's A Horrible Way to Die. Imagine my shock when I hit play on Wingard's feature debut and found a film not only devoid of, but in direct opposition to all the things I loved about AHWTD. The slow build, the subtle performances, the focus on characters over sensationalism... nowhere to be found.  What I got instead was a cheap, gore-soaked exploitation flick featuring performances that alternated between a half mile over the top so downplayed that they were shrugging off disembowelments.

Mind you, I was kind of into it at first. It seemed like a bad movie made by and for lovers of bad movies, but by the end it was just so hair-pullingly stupid that I could hardly make it through. None of the characters ever behaved in ways a real human being would, and the scenes with Tom Towles get so goddamned silly that he might as well have been wearing clown make-up. There were some fun moments, some good kills, and genuine humor, but not nearly enough to save this sloppy mess of a film. I cannot dig it!

Dark Waters (1994 - dir. Some Italian Dude who's never made another feature)
I'm torn on this one. The tale reeks strongly of Lovecraft, which is always good. The cinematography and framing of the shots is absolutely gorgeous, and the whole look and feel of the film, right down to the acting, perfectly recreates Dario Argento in his prime. The story is simple, but good, and it burns so slow that I was tense in anticipation for a shocking, bloody climax. What I got instead was a girl in a horrible prosthetic and a goofy-looking rubber monster.

I loved the first 3 quarters of this movie so much that I can't help but want to give it a second chance. As a horror fan, particularly one who came up in the 80s, I've learned to forgive a lot of fake-looking special effects and feel the power of the underlying story, and hopefully with repeat viewings, I can do so with Dark Waters as well.

Friday the 13th (1980 - dir. Sean Cunnigham)
I'd seen this one before, of course, but having come into horror by the time it had 7 sequels, I just couldn't get over the fact that Jason wasn't the killer in the original. This time around, though, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Having more of  historical perspective on horror helps a lot, This is one of those films where you have to get your mind back to the time period it was created in. It must have been shocking.

With a bunch of pretty danged awesome kill sequences and likable teenagers for slaughter, the original Friday the 13th holds up surprisingly well. Add to that Mrs. Voorhees undeniably creepy back and forth dialogue with her dead son, and you've got a slasher that stands the test of time. Finally, after all these years, I dig it.

Happy Birthday to Me (1981 - J. Lee Thompson)
I had something of an unplanned 80s horror fest in March. I've been so focused on the new horror that has come out that I had been neglecting that decade so beloved to so many horror fans. I remember seeing TV commercials for this one, and my older sister telling me all about it, despite my not wanting anything to do with it. But even after embracing horror, I never got around to seeing it until over 30 years later.

I loved this movie. From the shocking first kill to all of the goofy ones that followed, Happy Birthday to Me was a delight from beginning to end. And what an ending it was. The Scooby-Doo style rubber mask reveal was jaw-droppingly stupid, but somehow so right. Triple dig plus a highly recommend.

Maniac (1980 - dir. William Lustig)
Knowing its reputation, I wasn't sure if I even wanted to see this one. But then my homies over at the If We Made It blog recorded an episode devoted to it, so I basically had to. Joe Spinell is one of the creepiest mofos ever committed to celluloid in this flick, and Tom Savini's self-kill completely lived up to its reputation. The only problem I had with Maniac is how Joe Spinell goes from being a frothing-at-the-mouth psychopath to a smooth criminal when he's wooing the photographer. And why a super-hottie like her would look twice at his ugly mug defies belief. And yet, it's also the best part of the movie. I won't go so far as to say that I dig it, but I appreciate it.

Prom Night (1980 - dir. Paul Lynch)
Did I get a DVD with a really horrible transfer, or did Prom Night always look and sound this shitty? Bad transfer aside, I really did not like this 80s horror staple. There were exactly 3 where I enjoyed this movie. First was the very beginning where the creepy kids voices were echoing "The killer is coming" through the abandoned building. Next was the Jamie Lee Curtis disco scene. Her hair was terrible, but girl had some moves. Lastly, the severed head on the runway scene was pretty cool. Other than that, the kills were tame, the tension wasn't, and I didn't really like any of the characters. No diggity.

The House by the Cemetery (1981 - dir. Lucio Fulci)
This one probably deserves its own post. I'll say off the bat that this movie was a frickin' mess that made no sense. But somehow it didn't matter. The logic of the movie was nightmare logic - it didn't have to make sense, it just had to bring the goods with the gore and the scares, and it had both in spades.

There was the nanny character who was so whacked out that you just knew she had a pivotal role in all the freaky goings-on, but then she get decapitated and discarded without any explanation as to why she was such a weirdo. Then there was the scene where said nanny was mopping up a foot-wide streak of blood spanning the kitchen floor, yet the mother doesn't seem to notice. Near the end, the father comes home from a less than fruitful investigative trip suddenly knowing exactly what is going on. No fucking sense whatsoever.

And again, it doesn't matter because Fulci brings it. Those sounds that freak the mother out when she's alone in the house. The scene where Dr. Fruedstein holds the son's head to the door that his father is trying to chop through. All the chopped up bits of bodies littering the basement. This was some hardcore shit in the 80s, and still brings the shocks. And after everything, I kind of love that it makes no sense. I'm beginning to think that it was the Italian national style back in the day.

So there you have it. I watched some other stuff too, but nothing to write home (or a blog post) about. But now the hour is late, and the small screen calls to me once again. I leave you with the assurance that this blogger is indeed back, and next time, I'm bringing some cartoons with me.

Peace Out.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mumblecore Horror - A Horrible Way to Die

If there's one thing I'm a sucker for (aside from a good horror movie), it's a superdepressing indie drama about addiction and damaged lives. At long last, there's a film that gives me the best of both worlds. Adam Wingard's A Horrible Way to Die combines the no-budget shaky-camera aesthetic and character-driven, emotional focus of an arthouse (mumblecore, if you want to get derogatory) flick with the grimness and brutality of horror. Yeah, nothing makes me grin like a film devoid of humor or hope.

I should note that this isn't a movie for everyone. If your horror leanings are more Return of the Living Dead than Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, you may not find much to enjoy. Likewise, if shaky camera gives you a headache or otherwise peeves you, you're gonna want to turn this off 10 minutes in. Personally, I'm rather fond of the handheld aesthetic, which may explain my superhuman tolerance for found footage horror. Bottom line, if you can tolerate (or heck, even enjoy) the cinematography, A Horrible Way to Die holds many rewards.

At its heart, A Horrible Way to Die is a tragic love story involving Sarah, a recovering alcoholic who was so drunk for so long that she never picked up on the clues that her live-in boyfriend Garrick was a serial killer. When the film opens, Garrick has escaped from prison and is heading back to Sarah's town. Meanwhile, Sarah is doing her best to heal, attending AA meetings and starting to date Kevin, who she met there.

Amy Seimitz gives a flawless (IMHO) performance as Sarah, and I can't wait to see more of this actress. She comes off as mousy and withdrawn, but she's been through too much to take shit from anyone. Her wounds are raw, but just beginning to heal. When she decides to take a chance and trust Kevin enough to meet him for a dinner date, it's an act of incredible bravery.

The first time you see Kevin looking at Sarah in AA, he comes off as incredibly creepy, but when he eventually asks her out, he's so awkwardly charming and sincere that he wins you (and Sarah) over. I'm going to make myself vulnerable for a minute and admit I'm a huge sap. If my wife was one to go for chick flicks, you'd hear no complaints from me, as I'd secretly enjoy them while pretending not to. And I'll readily admit that for me, half the pleasure of watching A Horrible Way to Die was watching this damaged girl learn to trust again and form a relationship with this awkward-but-nice guy.

Speaking of nice guys, as far as serial killers go, Garrick has to be one of the nicest out there. In his first scene, Garrick helpfully tells the girl he's got tied up to watch her head as he lifts her out of the trunk. Then he repeatedly assures her that everything is going to be okay shortly before strangling her. It's as if he never quite believes he's going to kill anyone until his compulsion gets the better of him, and afterwards, he's always remorseful. The film draws a nice parallel between Garrick and Sarah, because they are both ruled by these compulsions that make them despise themselves. Killing is Garrick's addiction, and you get the sense that the nice-guy side of him isn't a false front, but a genuine side of his personality, and the one he wishes was in control of his actions. Now, I can't say how psychologically realistic this is, but it made for an interesting character.

If you haven't seen the film and it sounds like something you might like, now's the time to stop reading, because I can't take this discussion any farther without giving away some MAJOR SPOILERS.

I don't know about you, but I didn't see the ending coming at all. And the first time around, I wasn't too happy with it. It seemed like a cheap twist for the sake of having a twist ending. On top of that, I really liked Kevin, and I wanted his feelings toward Sarah to be real so that when one or both of them wound up tortured to death, the horror would cut deep. That's what I've been waiting for: a horror film where you care so deeply about the characters that when they're murdered, you're left devastated. Instead, Kevin turns out to be a serial killer groupie who, along with his 2 friends, have captured Sarah and arranged for Garrick to meet them in a secluded cabin to get his revenge for her turning him in to the cops. It seemed far-fetched, and worse yet, totally out of character for Kevin.

Here's the thing though, watch it again and you can see there was no cheating. There were subtle, damned-nigh imperceptible clues to what was coming. At their first date, Kevin, a supposed recovering alcoholic, chooses a restaurant with booze covering every wall. He claims he didn't realize it until he walked in the restaurant, yet when Sarah says she has no idea what she wants, he says, “It’s all pretty good." If he knows the menu so well, he obviously frequents the restaurant, but if he was really an alcoholic, he would definitely have noticed the wine bottles everywhere.

On the second viewing, I found Kevin so creepy that I could hardly believe it hadn't been obvious all along that he was a predator. Mostly it's just the way he looks at Sarah when she's hinting at secrets he already knows. What I had chalked up to his being awkward (or even being a less than convincing actor) I now interpret as dead-on acting choices. He's awkward because he's a psycho trying to appear to be a nice guy.

Once I got over not getting the ending I was expecting and hoping for, I realized that the actual ending was better, because it contains the whole point of the film. Through the whole movie, you just sort of assume Garrick is heading home to get revenge. Instead, he ends up rescuing Sarah from her captors and letting her go. He still loves her deeply and feels guilty about failing to be the man he should have been for her. As he's cutting her down from the ceiling, Sarah tells him she missed him, and means it. Once she's been freed, they exchange a loaded glance, we get a quick flash of a love scene from earlier in their lives, and she leaves while he collapses from the stab wound he's sustained.

Earlier I pointed out the parallel between their addictions, which is why, on some level, Sarah understands Garrick. Maybe she doesn't understand the compulsion to kill, but she understands uncontrollable compulsions to do self-destructive things and to hate yourself for it. She also never personally saw his brutal side. He was always gentle and loving with her, which is why she can't hate him despite all he's done. In their shared glance at the end you can see that they still love each other despite everything, and that they both know they have to let each other go. Classic star-crossed lovers with a deep, black twist.

The one thing missing from A Horrible Way to Die was any sort of scare factor. There was some decent tension in parts, but it was way less of a scary movie than a dark, bleak drama. But the good news is that Adam Wingard's next film, "You're Next," looks to be a balls-out home invasion type horror movie with the 3 principle cast members from AHWTD appearing. Plus, Ti West is playing a character named Tariq, so I'm obviously there.

For a dissenting opinion on A Horrible Way to Die, check out the If We Made It Podcast with my friends Jeff and Tucker, in which they also give an insightful review of Lucky McKee's The Woman before ranking A Horrible Way to Die lower than Santa Claus: The Movie in their Flickchart.

I'm fishing for comments with this one, so please let me know what you thought of A Horrible Way to Die. Was it as good as I made it out to be? Worse than Santa Claus? Somewhere in between? Let me know. And when you're done commenting, head on over to the MMM Facebook page to see what I thought of Dolan's Cadillac. Then call your mother. She has heard from you in so long. Also, you might think about a haircut.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Final Girl Film Club: Hell Night

Before I get to the glory that is Hell Night, I'd like to take a moment to thank our hostess, the talented Ms. Stacie Ponder, not only for giving us lesser bloggers a bit of free publicity, but also for this kick-ass stick figure rendering of Chromeskull stabbing Lena Headey in the head:

I see you are jealous, as well you should be. This is the custom artwork drawn directly on the back cover of my deluxe edition of Stacie's Slashers 101 mini-comic. The good news is, you don't have to spend the remainder of your days wallowing in envy--you can totally order your own over at Final Girl. I suggest you take a moment and do that right now. I can wait...

Done? Which slasher did you order? Dr. Decker from Nightbreed? Gahh! Why didn't I think of that? Now I'm freakin' jealous.

Anyhow, on with the review!

 Hell Night (1981, dir. Tom DiSimone)

The Verdict: Hell Night is a fun, but uneven, foray into cheesy 80s horror that works best when it (however lamely) attempts humor rather than horror.

Hell Night pours on the awesome so thick that within the first five minutes you will be convinced that it is the end-all be-all of 80s horror. Unfortunately, the film cannot keep this pace up for long. In fact, the film is at its best before any of the horror elements come into play. The movie begins with one of those mythical, end-of-the-world-blowout, 20-keg frat parties that you could only believe were real back in the 80s. Girls flash their cleavage while bringing drinks and smokes to drunken jocks who puke on trophy cases and throw kegs through the picture windows. Motion pictures exist precisely because parties like this do not.

Awesomely overblown period setting, check. But what about the characters? We've got Surfer Dude who comes dressed as Robin Hood and wise-cracks his way through the party while ogling Party Girl, who is dressed as a flapper and dancing provocatively, and who is perpetually carrying a small pharmacy somewhere on her person, despite the smallness of her outfit. There's also Frat President, who is a pig, but a charming, affable pig who gets points simply for the time, effort, and obvious passion he puts into scaring pledges shitless on the big night. Next there's Sensitive Guy, who is the more serious-minded type. You know, the guy who is in a frat but isn't really a "frat guy." Sensitive Guy is clearly set up to be the love interest for our Final Girl, Linda Blair.

Ah Linda Blair, I finally understand my friend Shannon's obsession with you. When we meet Linda's character, she is observing the party in a knowing, above-it-all manner that shows she's the smartest, most confident, flat-out coolest girl in the room. Her baby-fat cherubic face is the perfect counterpoint to her sultry baritone voice and wise-beyond-her-years demeanor... can you tell I was crushing on her something fierce?  The funny thing about Linda Blair is this movie is that in the beginning, she doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the cast. She's just a little bit too good as an actress, and she's clearly slumming. In the early scenes, Hell Night shows you tantalizing glimpses of the actress Linda Blair might have become had her career not been derailed by drug convictions (how quaint it seems that in the 80s a drug problem could turn public sentiment against an actor). Alas, as the film goes on, her performance deteriorates, mostly because the filmmakers don't give her anything compelling to do or even remain true to the character they've set up, More on that later.

Hell Night's greatest strength is its humor, although I was never quite sure if it was legitimitely funny, or so bad that it was funny. If you're being generous, you might consider the script a clever send-up of the frat-boy mentality. Or you could argue that the filmmakers possess a frat-boy mentality and any laughter is at their expense. Ultimately though, it doesn't matter. With it or at it, I laughed a lot.

Take for example, this bit of dialogue:

Lackey Nerd: "What a twat. We should have left her behind."
Frat Prez: "What for? Her behind's her best part. We should have keep her behind and left the rest of her."

Tell me, if you can, whether or not this is genuinely funny, or so lame it's hilarious? I'd say it's a bit of both. Imagine this joke as delivered by me and Jack Nicholson:

It could totally work, but the ham-fisted set-up and delivery take it over the edge into lamedom. The cumulative effect, however, is a joke that works on multiple levels, and is perfctly suited to the aesthetic of Hell Night.

Where Hell Night falters is whenever it attempts to build tension. When the pledges finally get locked in the murder/suicide house, the audience gets all these agonizingly slow scenes where people are creeping carefully along corridors, and you can tell by the way the shots are framed that nothing is going to happen. Rather than perched on the edge of your seat, you're sitting back waiting for the scene to end so you can get to the kills.

Speaking of which, the kills are pretty damned cool in that low-budget, infinitely inventive kind of way. At one point, a mongoloid twists Lackey Nerd's head around backwards. Within seconds, you realize the inherent cheapnesss of the effect. All they did was begin the head twist, cut, put the Lackey Nerd's jacket on backwards, then continue the twist. Such a simple effect, but in the seconds it takes to realize how it was done, you've already gasped and cringed at the brutality you thought you saw.

Alright, here's my biggest gripe of the movie. When we're introduced to Linda Blair's character, she comes off as this super-cool above-it-all outsider girl who isn't quite sold on the sorority life, yet is gaming the system for its potential benefits. During her conversation with Sensitive Guy, she shows herself to be highly intelligent, independent, and possessed of those masculine traits (being an auto-mechanic) that make her every guy's dream girl. I was sold. My firm expectation was that she would be one of the most kick-ass final girls of all time.

And then...

She spends the rest of the goddamned movie being a goddamned damsel in goddamn distress. I mean, goddamn! Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration. She has her moments, particularly near the end of the film, but for the most part she gets frightened, yells for help, seeks comfort from Sensitive Guy, rinse, repeat. The only time she shows a spark of her potential inner bad-ass is when Surfer Dude's shotgun clatters to the floor with the Dude himself nowhere in sight. Sensitive Guy cowers near the staircase while Linda insists she's going to get that gun. Coincidentally, this is the only scene in the film that even hints at tension, and gave me a pretty good jump scare (belated spolier alert).

I can't end this review without a huge shout-out to the best thing about Hell Night, Linda Blair included: Surfer Dude. This man deserves a standing ovation for perfectly capturing the gleeful cheese that Hell Night represents (go ahead, stand up and applaud, I'll wait). Every moment you watch him on the screen is a moment that God subtracts from the span of your days. Every lame joke that spews forth from his pseudo-mustachioed lips utterly kills. And it's not that he's partiularly good, it's just that his enthusiasm is infectious. When he excitedly describes what it's like to surf to Meg, well, a less-luminous being would have ground the movie to a halt, but between he and Meg (her naughty interludes are half the fun), the screen lights up. Am I over-selling this? Anyway, he's really fun to watch, especially when they give him lines like, "The world's gone crazy!" in earnest.

So, for all it's faults, I've got to give Hell Night 2 enthusiastic thumbs up, with one caveat: This is a film best enjoyed with a roomful of rowdy, drunken friends to carry you through the slow parts.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Anniversary Post - One Year of Mancave Madnesss (That's Right, 3 S's y'all)

In 5 short hours, The Montana Mancave Massacre will have officially been the reason for going online for a full year. Looking over my posts from the past year, I'm disappointed that I haven't been able to blog nearly as much as I'd like to, but I'm also proud at what I've done and extremely grateful for the friends I've made in the horror blogging community. You're the reason I do this, and for the past year, you've been my main source of inspiration not to toss myself off a bridge. So thanks for that...

This past week I've been in a rut and in no mood to celebrate my 1-year anniversary with an epic film-fest followed by a self-congratulatory write-up. Instead, I was more in the mood to have my ego (feverishly) stroked by someone else. So, as a Blogday gift to myself, I've asked my good friend Tucker from the always hilarious If We Made It podcast to write a gushing essay about how awesome I am (seriously, that was the assignment). Not only did Tucker make me feel a little better about myself, he also reminded me of how I totally owned that posse of little ten-year-old shits with dart guns in Boise. So I proudly present to you the offical Montana Mancave Massacre First Blogday Asskiss starring Tucker Battrell:

This Sunday marks the one year anniversary of the Montana Mancave Massacre blog, which is brought to us by one Marvin the Macabre. Marvin and I go way back. Aside from being a connoisseur of the horrific, he is also an excellent writer and a great human being. Sure, he may make light of even the most obscene acts of depravity, but that's what makes him macabre. This is a man of action and principle. For example, he was one of the main players in an impromptu toy gun battle with several neighborhood children. I believe he came away from that with several kills. Five little ears strung on a piece of twine around Marvin's neck serve as a reminder of his heroism and cruelty. On principle he once took a several miles long walk to avoid sitting through even one lousy Chuck Norris film. But beyond being a man of taste in cinema and distinction in battle, Marvin is a dear friend, even if he did defend Gladiator.

I, along with our mutual friend Jeff, have a podcast called If We Made It, which Marvin has been a loyal listener and frequent contributor. Marvin's blog has been a continuing source of inspiration in the past year. His witty insights into the horror genre and his obscure recommendations have given us much to ponder when approaching certain films on our podcast. While we don't exclusively deal in horror, it is one of our passions and The Montana Mancave Massacre is a go-to spot for funny and interesting insight into classics we adore (The Lost Boys), lesser known fare one would be better off avoiding (Live Feed), and provides the kick in the ass I need to check out new classics (Martyrs). I value Marvin's blog and hope for many more successful years of his signature stellar content, but more than that I value Marvin as a friend. Happy anniversary to the man and the Mancave.

Tucker Battrell

Okay, for the record, I thought I walked out on the Charles Bronson movie, but then again I'm getting old and can't remember shit. Thanks Tucker for the slobber and please everyone, go check out Tucker and Jeff at And pretty please, add to the asskissathon by commenting on this post and telling me how awesome I am. Believe me, I need the boost. And as always, a thousand thanks for reading.