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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

WTF Blogosphere? A Dissenting Opinion on The Devil Inside

When there's a movie I really want to see, I avoid reading reviews like the Bubonic. I refuse to taint my experience with any expectations other than the ones I've formed myself based on the trailer, the cast, and the filmmakers. On Saturday night, I shelled out my $8.50 to see The Devil Inside not expecting much. When I walked out of the theatre a few hours later, my stomach was in knots, I felt the beginnings of a panic attack, and a maniacal grin was splitting my head practically in two. In other words, I was peaking on a good horror movie buzz.

Imagine my surprise, shortly after composing my gushing love letter of a review for The Devil Inside, to discover that pretty much every other human being was matched in a lockstep of hatred and disdain for the film. And it wasn't just the uppity, holier-than-thou film critics. It was damn near every other horror blogger I read. WTF blogosphere?

Thing is, reading through a stack of bile-spewing reviews, I found myself agreeing with much of what they said was wrong with the movie. The difference was, I figured "well, this and this could have been better, but the good parts more than made up for it" while everyone else was like "this and this totally ruined the movie." So, for the record, yes, the ending was extremely abrupt, anticlimactic, and disappointing. But it wasn't at all out of line in terms of the story. And okay, ending with a URL was tasteless and gimmicky. I can't argue with that. But after my initial disappointment faded and I rewound the film in my head, I was really kind of blown away.
Here's what I liked about The Devil Inside:

The Possessed - The actresses who played Maria Rossi and Rosa, the two main possessed women in the film, were incredible. The erattic sedated-to-manic behavior of Maria is unnerving, and when her daughter enters the room with her, it creates this trip-wire tension and a real sense of danger. I was watching with clenched fists, just waiting to see what kind of violently crazy shit she'd pull.

The Exorcism Scenes - People complained that everything in the exorcism scenes was stolen from other movies, The Exorcist in particular. But couldn't you say the same about every other exorcism movie ever made? That's the problem with film genres that were spawned by a single movie. You can't watch a zombie film without defining it in terms of Night of the Living Dead. The Exorcist created the conventions for the exorcism film, and every film within the genre will be measured by how it conforms to or departs from those conventions. That said, The Devil Inside is a very conventional exorcism film, using the well-established elements of bodily contortions, levitation, distorted voices, and obscenity-packed blaspheming. So yeah, you're not seeing anything new, but you're seeing it in a new way, and for the most part, better than it's been done before.

The Effects - Let's be honest, as much as Linda Blair's 180 degree head-rotation scared us all pissless back in the day, it looks pretty hokey in 2012. But the effects in The Devil Inside are seamless and utterly convincing. While some had to be computer enhanced (though damned if I could tell which ones they were), one of the film's main assets was human-special effect Bonnie Morgan. And sure, she got hired because she can twist her body into unbelievable knots, but the girl can really act too. While critics dog-piled on the film's faux-documentary style as what was wrong with the movie, I thought it was essential to its success. There's something incredibly scary about putting convincing special effects into a lo-fi digital video.

I think the main problem is that people are just burned out on found footage, shaky camera fare. I'm convinced that if this movie had come out 5 years ago, it would have been hailed as a genre classic. As it is, a lot of people reported the movie wasn't the least bit scary. And if you go into a movie with an attitude like, "Okay motherfucker, scare me. I dare you," almost nothing will. You see, there's a correct way to watch a horror film, and it involves meeting the movie halfway. For me, I do my damnedest to place myself in the vulnerable position of the protagonists, leaving myself open to being scared. I crave the fear, the tension. And I want to like every movie I watch, and when I don't, it's not for lack of trying on my part.

In this respect, The Devil Inside had me at Hello. When I was a kid, The Exorcist really did a number on me, and movies about demonic possession have a pre-burrowed route to getting under my skin. But that's the point - no matter how much critics pretend that movies can be evaluated objectively, each individual's movie experience is deeply personal and depends on all kinds of factors from your personal history to who you saw it with to what your mood was like the day you saw it. So, maybe The Devil Inside wasn't as great as I thought. Maybe I was simply excited to have two child-free hours to engage in my favorite pasttime. Who knows? But I had a great time with it. Likewise, maybe it wasn't as bad as the critics and bloggers would have you believe. Don't trust them. Don't trust me. Just try to watch the movie without expectations.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Five Best Clive Barker Adaptations

For a best-selling author, Clive Barker doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves. Back when Hellraiser came out and Stephen King was calling him the future of horror, he seemed poised to dethrone even King. But that was back when he was the hot new author on the block, and while his writing retains the same gorgeous prose style and philosophical bent that made him a standout among horror writers, his star has diminished in the intervening years. Hell, I even stopped reading him for the better part of the last decade.
Not long ago, however, I dug up my old copies of the Books of Blood and was blown away anew. Say what you will about some of his more epic volumes, but Barker is the master of the short horror story. His tales craft grotesquely beautiful worlds populated with creatures so bizarre your mind struggles just to visualize them. But then he’ll veer into pure, visceral horror, dropping descriptions of violence graphic enough to make you throw up in your mouth a little.
While his books are nothing short of amazing, the film adaptations can be somewhat less so. For that reason, I’ve created this handy little list of the 5 must-see Barker adaptations:

#5 – Hellraiser
(1987 – dir. Clive Barker)
Barker’s most famous creation in last place? How can this be? While there’s no denying that Pinhead and his aberrant band of cenobytes have captured the imagination of horror fans around the world and become icons in their own right, have you rewatched the film lately? There are enough terrible performances and laugh-out-loud crappy special effects to make you reconsider your objection to horror remakes. However, Hellraiser also has some genuinely good performances and make-up effects (particularly the skinless, regenerating body of Frank), and the violence is fairly gruesome, even in the age of Hostel. The thing that justifies Hellraiser’s place on this list, however, is the strength of the story, and the vision displayed by Barker, who is as gifted a visual artist as he is a writer. If only we could see the film as it looked inside his mind.

#4 – The Midnight Meat Train
(2008 – dir. Ryuhei Kitamura)
Starring a pre-Hangover Bradley Cooper, Brit bad-ass Vinnie Jones, and the always stunning Leslie Bibb, and featuring a pitch-perfect bit-part by Brooke Shields, The Midnight Meat Train’s main strength is in its performances. The film expands, but stays true to Barker’s original story about the mysterious serial-killer Mahogany, whose meticulous preparation of victims suggests a greater purpose behind his subterranean slayings. The biggest difference between the story and the film is that the story features some of the most stomach-turning gore I’ve ever read, while the violence as depicted in the film verges on cartoonish, particularly during Ted Raimi’s death scene in which Jones hits him so hard that fakey-looking digital eyeballs pop out of his head. Blame CGI for marring an otherwise very satisfying horror film.
#3 – Dread
(2009, dir. Anthony DiBlasi)
I’ll say upfront that this film has a major flaw that may be a deal-breaker for some. Namely, the film makes the human mind out to be much more fragile than it really is. Characters seem to be driven mad far too easily in the film, but if you can get past that, Dread has much to offer. The plot involves film school students doing a documentary study on people’s deepest fears. Of course, one of them has a hidden agenda and uses the volunteers’ filmed confessions to exploit these fears. The stark, oppressive atmosphere is unrelenting, the performances are solid, and the story is captivating. The movie expands on Barker’s original story, and departs from it for the finale, which was a wise choice. The most insanely horrible act of cruelty is not shown in the film, but merely suggested in a gut-punch of a final line.

#2 – Nightbreed
(1990 – dir. Clive Barker)
I may get some shit for this pick, especially for putting it ahead of Hellraiser. And yes, I’ll admit it is pretty damned campy at times, but there’s something I’ve always loved about Barker’s unapologetic monsterfest. It’s a veritable Mos Eisley Cantina, nay, Jabba’s Palace of strange creatures both beautiful and menacing. Being a fan of bizarre beasts, I find it irresistible that the monsters are the heroes of the story, battling a sheriff’s posse of rednecks for the right to exist.  Plus, David Cronenberg’s portrayal of the serial-killing psychiatrist Dr. Decker is a definite highlight in his inarguably distinguished career. Does anyone know if they've found the lost footage yet? Rumor has it there was a musical number that was cut. Now that I'd pay to see. 

#1 Candyman
(1992 – dir. Bernard Rose)
If you haven’t watched Candyman in the last decade or so, you’ve probably forgotten how smart, scary, and downright disturbing it is. Candyman is the smartest slasher since Psycho, and arguably one of the best horror films of the 1990s (not the greatest decade for horror, but still…) The character of Candyman has entered the pantheon of horror heroes, but his reputation may be tarnished by the company. After all, how many dreadful sequels did Jason, Freddy, and Michael slog through during the decade?  With a classic score by Phillip Glass and a top-notch cast, Candyman transcends the slasher sub-genre and touches on the big, philosophical themes that Barker so deftly weaves into his prose.

#0 Abarat
(2015 – dir. Henry Selick)
That’s right, topping my list at numero zero is a Clive Barker adaptation that doesn’t actually exist, but should. There were rumors of an animated version going around, but I don’t think anything ever came of it, and Henry Selick was certainly not attached. I’m just throwing this out there as wishful thinking. Abarat given the stop-motion treatment by the director  of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline? If you could, how many of you would pre-order their opening night tickets right now? Are you listening,  Hollywood? Make this shit happen.