Thursday, April 30, 2009

Movie Review: Atom Age Vampire (1960)

Atom Age Vampire
ATOM AGE VAMPIRE - DVD Cover Image

Written by Alberto Bevilacqua, Gino De Santis, Anton Giulio Majano, & Piero Monviso
Directed by Anton Giulio Majano

Pierre....Sergio Fantoni
Jeanette....Susanne Loret
Professor Levin....Alberto Lupo
Sacha....Roberto Bertea
Monique....Franca Parisi

After an argument with her boyfriend Pierre, Jeanette—a distraught stripper—wrecks her car, destroying her once-natural beauty. Feeling sorry for herself and on the verge of suicide, she accepts the offer of a shadowy doctor to undergo some radical secret surgery to restore her face. The secret? “Spontaneous reproduction of living cells—the secret of life itself!” (insert maniacal laugh here.)

The procedure is a smashing success—momentarily, at least.

But when a few mysterious deaths occur around the facility, suspicions are stirred, compounded by Pierre’s investigation into Jeannette’s whereabouts. Perhaps the good doctor isn’t nearly as good as he seems, and perhaps Jeannette is more of a prisoner than a patient. And perhaps—just perhaps—it’s only a mediocre horror flick.

Deep down, it’s a combination story of obsession, cautionary tale of science, and an anti-smoking morality play. If you really want to peel away the layers, that is. On the surface, it’s just a fairly boring, awfully chatty drive-in piece with poor dialogue and, for the most part, laughable effects (although the regeneration of Jeannette’s face was pretty impressive, considering.) Worth a watch if you’ve baked yourself stupid at 3:00am on a Sunday morning, you’ve eaten all the brownies, and the Disney Channel has pre-empted Rescue Rangers, but other than that…keep on truckin’.

1960
Unrated
72 minutes
Black & White
Italy
Italian (English dubbed)

"You'll gasp with Horror...a spine-tingling motion picture only the atom age could produce!"
--J/Metro

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Review: Small World by Tabitha King

Small World
SMALL WORLD by Tabitha King - Cover Image
by
Tabitha King

Dorothy Hardesty Douglas (AKA Dolly) is the daughter of the former President of the United States, and so it is no surprise that she holds a certain fondness for the White House, even in middle age. She's so fond of it, in fact, that she has paid a small fortune in manufacturing and furnishing costs for a miniature scale model, known in the press as the Doll's White House. It has everything one might expect to find in the real McCoy, adorned with historically accurate meticulous detail. Everything, that is, except for someone to live in it.

Enter Roger Tinker, disgruntled scientist formerly in the employ of the United States government, who has secretly developed what he has dubbed "the minimizer", a camera-shaped shrinking ray. Just point, click and...ta-da: an instant miniature instead of a tired old photograph. Roger and Dolly strike up a rather strange love affair and then embark on a crime spree, shrinking and stealing anything that catches their fancy. Including Leyna Shaw, television newscaster and longtime rival of Dolly's.

Some leeway must be given to the author here. It was her first novel, after all, and so a finely developed style and sense of storytelling was not yet developed. And, it can't be easy trying to write these types of stories with the surname of King--how do you compete when you're married to Stephen? But despite the leeway we're offering here, and the general competency of the writing, the basic premise (shrinking your enemies and forcing them to live in your dollhouse) is so ridiculous that it's nearly impossible to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story.

Although Peter Straub (the penultimate horror-hipster, and an author I have only the utmost respect for) says on a cover blurb that "Small World is so clever it could cut your skin" and throws around words like 'suspense' and 'grotesque', I found very few instances of that upon the pages. Sadly, Small World is less The Incredible Shrinking Man and more Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

The best you can hope for here is a paper cut.

Better luck next time, Tabitha.

--J/Metro

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Movie Review: Audition (2000)

Audition
AUDITION - Takashi Miike thriller - Movie Poster

Written by Daisuke Tengan
Directed by Takashi Miike

Ryo Ishibashi .... Shigeharu Aoyama
Eihi Shiina .... Asami Yamazaki
Tetsu Sawaki .... Shigehiko Aoyama
Jun Kunimura .... Yasuhisa Yoshikawa

Seven years after his wife passes away, Shigeharu takes his son's advice and gets back into the dating game. Discussing his ideal woman with his friend Yasuhisa, they come up with an idea to find Shigeharu a wife: Auditions.

The two of them set up fake auditions for a movie that is never going to be made. Shigeharu is in charge of going over the applicants, and from the moment he lays eyes on Asami's picture, we know just as well as he does who he's going to choose. Regardless, the show must go on and one by one the girls come before the camera in what reminds us of the first couple episodes of American Idol (minus Simon's snide comments, of course.)

AUDITION - Takashi Miike thriller - the auditions

A few days pass, and Shigeharu asks Asami out for dinner. He tells her that she didn't get the part, but she doesn't seem to care. She has fallen for Shigeharu, it seems, and in a whirlwind romance, they leave town together for the weekend. While in their hotel room, Shigeharu attempts to talk her into going out to a restaurant on the pier, telling her "they serve nice cheesecake," apparently oblivious to the fact that his own little cheesecake is in the mood for love. He awakens late that night and finds that Asami has left the hotel. Panicked, he returns home to find her but she is nowhere to be found.

He quickly grows obsessed with hunting the girl down, and his investigation into her disappearance leads him to an increasingly surrealistic and Lynchian side of the human psyche. He discovers that everywhere Asami had spent an ample amount of time was later devastated by death. Soon, things get so weird that even we lose track of reality for a while. And just when we think we've got our bearings, the carpet is pulled out from beneath our feet and we're on the floor with Shigeharu, looking up into the eyes of Asami.

I won't ruin the ending for you here, but when you first see Asami in her S&M doctor's outfit, you won't know whether to be aroused or frightened. But that will all clear up in time.
AUDITION - Takashi Miike thriller - Sexy Asami
I'm going to be honest with you here. Upon my initial viewing, I was bored witless for the first part of this film. There was very little of interest going on and I was beginning to think that this was going nowhere. But when all is said and done, it becomes obvious that this was director Takashi Miike's intention: real life is boring, nightmares are exciting, and this is what happens when the nightmare invades real life. I can tell you exactly when the nightmare begins to seep in, too.

At the appearance of the canvas bag. You'll have to watch the movie if you want to know what that means.

Still, a half hour of build-up would have been sufficient, and some may think that the entire film seemed to suffer because of it, but after repeated viewings, I can no longer share that philosophy. No matter what you think, though, you simply can not beat the final reel of the film. It makes the entire wait worthwhile.

If you're patient, and are capable of deciphering storylines from more nonlinear means (dreams, colors, mood, fragments of conversation, etc.), give this a whirl.


2000
Unrated
115 minutes
Color
Japan
Japanese (with English subtitles)


Kiri Kiri, bitches!

--J/Metro

Monday, April 27, 2009

Movie Review: Livelihood (2005)

Livelihood
LIVELIHOOD - Zombie Comedy - Poster Image

Written by Curtis Crispin, Ryan Graham, & Tracey Graham
Directed by Ryan Graham

Steve Thomas...Billy Jump
Scott Graham...Alexander Keaton
Michelle Trout...Vida
Amy Smith...Jean
Lewis Smith...Roger
Kara Webb...Zoey Endicott

There's a full-scale zombie epidemic sweeping across the nation, but it's unlike any outbreak that you've seen before. These zombies aren't hungry for human flesh and entrails. According to FUX News 45, they are "sedate and confused," wanting only to get back to their friends, family and jobs. In general, they just want their old lives back. The world of the living isn't exactly greeting them with open arms, though, seeing the reanimated corpses as lower life (death?) forms to be ignored, used and exploited.

This film concentrates on only three members of the undead hoard. First off, we have Billy Jump, a world famous hair band rock-n-roller who died in a drug-fueled electric guitar accident in 1988. Upon his resurrection, he attempts to get the old band back together to land a contract with Kash Grab Records; Next we have Alexander Keaton, a severely pussy-whipped office drone who was decapitated by a samurai (seriously!), and becomes a laughing stock at the hands of his overbearing, crooked former employer (culminating in some sharp Chaplin-esque moments); And finally we have Vida, an evil stepmother type who moves back in with her spineless son and Jean, his Cinderella type wife who may or may not have slipped her some poison pudding. Sounds like a juicy little soap opera to me!

If you go into this film expecting another Shaun of the Dead (or even the less laudable Dead and Breakfast), you will be genuinely disappointed. It's not a horror movie, and it's not even a horror comedy, not really. It's simply a comedy, whose leads just happen to be zombies. In general, the Munsters are more horrifying. But if you know what you're getting into--a dark comedy with a dash of horror elements, you'll probably get a kick out of this venture. The acting, camera work and sound are all good considering the low budget, and much of the dialogue is nearly genius in that irreverent sort of way.

It's a boy-meets-girl, boy-makes-good, slice-of-life, spoof/satire--kind of what you would expect if you genetically spliced American Zombie with the Scary Movie franchise. It also manages to throw in a fair amount of social commentary, although to be honest, it was more than drowned out by the sophomoric humor than ran throughout. The special effects were passable, but the make-up effects were generally pretty poor--but you can't blame the filmmakers for that. On a budget of only $4,000, I have seen far more money go far shorter distances.

Interspersed throughout the movie, we have spot-on snippets of news reports, television commercials, infomercials, music videos, etc... basically pop culture's response to the zombie plague. And, as is usual with pop culture, it's all about making a quick buck from the (excuse me) brainless consumer. But hell, it worked on me. I've been scouring the drug stores in search of Pitt Wax deodorant for the past week or so. Talk about XXXtreme!

The music was very important in this film, and it knocked it out of the park. As much as I tend to despise their respective genres, I couldn't help but groove along with the Billy Jump Band or Junior 'Senior' Young Jenkins III. Interestingly enough, the Billy Jump Band is portrayed by the unlikely-named Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad, a real arthouse garage band that features the director on guitar. Be sure to watch the "The Real Billy Jump Band" featurette under the special features to catch a glimpse at their bizarre, yet unquestionably appealing, music.

Livelihood does suffer from the same ailment that many first-time independent feature films suffer from: Chubby Film Syndrome. That is to say, a little more editing would have gone a long way to tightening up the pace. Considering there are roughly 30 minutes of deleted scenes (including one that I thought was amazing and should have been left in, riffing on American Psycho), the director obviously wasn't afraid to trim the fat, but another Slimfast Shake and a jog around the park would have been helpful.

As with all things, you have to take the good along with the bad, and hope that in the end, you come up on the plus side. Overall, Livelihood was a hell of a fun ride that fans of the aforementioned American Zombie would be well advised to check out. With a bit more experience and a little more money, these guys could very well do some amazing things.

2005
Not Rated
103 Minutes
Color
English
United States

Backstage at the Monsters of Retarded Monkey Rock!
--J/Metro

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Halloween: The Video Game

Halloween: The Video Game
HALLOWEEN: THE VIDEO GAME - Packaging
In Wizard's early 1980's version of Halloween for the Atari 2600, you play the hapless babysitter, locked in a large two story house with no furniture and no exits. It's just you, Michael Meyers, and a whole caboodle of kids that need to be saved. The screen is divided into two levels--the first floor and the second floor--and you can scroll either left or right until you reach the end of the house. There are doorways that you can take, some leading to the other level of the house while others take you to another room on the same floor.

Your objective is of course to save the children from the maniac, escorting their little panicky bodies from the clutches of Michael Meyers to a safe room
in the house (either the first or last room on either floor.) For each child you successfully save, you are awarded 675 points. There is a knife that pops up sporadically that you can use to attack Michael Meyers and scare him off, which gives you another 225 points. It can only be used once before you have to go find it again, however, and it gets you in dangerously close to the killer. If he gets to the kid before you do, the child falls to the floor and bleeds profusely from the head. And if Michael Meyers gets to you, he decapitates you with one quick swipe of his knife and you run around like a chicken with its head cut off, spurting blood from your ragged neck. You only have three lives, each represented by a jack-o-lantern at the top of the screen, so run like hell and zigzag your ass off to stay alive.

HALLOWEEN: THE VIDEO GAME - Screen Shot

The graphics are about
as good as can be expected considering the abilities of the 2600, but the game play is a hell of a lot better than Wizard's other (ahem) stab at the genre: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. However, precisely like that game, this one was all but blacklisted by most major distributors and so the original cartridge is an extremely rare find. ROMs are available for download from the internet to be used with Atari emulators on your personal computer, but the legality of such an item is dubious at best.

The game is well worth playing, especially for fans of the Halloween series. Even the Atari version of the theme song has the remarkable ability to send chills up your spine.

Get down with your 8-bit self!
--J/Metro

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Video Game

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Video Game
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE VIDEO GAME - Atari 2600 - Title Screen

Yes, that's right: a Texas Chain Saw Massacre video game. Sometime in the year of 1983, a small programming company by name of Wizard released the first violent video game for the Atari 2600, based on the hit film by the same name. Unlike most of the other games at the time--and in fact unlike most of the games today--you play the villain. As Leatherface you run through the pastures of your little farm and slice and dice young innocents with your chainsaw. It doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Unfortunately, it doesn't. While it is initially a novel concept, the thrill of the kill wears off quickly and you're left with just a mediocre game. There's not much to it and if you are fortunate enough to locate this game, expect to become frustrated quite quickly.

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE VIDEO GAME - Atari 2600 - Screen Shot

Remember, this is an Atari game so don't expect anything too fantastic in the graphics department. Leatherface looks rather like a Peanuts character and for some reason wears a pastel blue full-body suit (which, incidentally, matches the chainsaw.) You side-scroll through the game chasing your human prey and when you kill them they fall over on their side and blood puddles up beneath their head. You only have three tanks of fuel, which are slowly depleted each time you rev the saw, either to attack or to cut yourself free from obstacles (fences, tumbleweeds, cow skulls, and of course a million wheelchairs courtesy of Franklin.) Each victim killed scores you 1,000 points, which, as they say, can be cashed in for valuable prizes. 5,000 points will give you extra tank of fuel and once you reach 10,000 points the game play speeds up. There is no "ending" to the game. You just keep going until you run out of fuel, and when that happens one of the would-be victims bum rushes poor Leatherface and kicks him in the ass. I swear to God.


Why would Leatherface put up with this nonsense? I'll tell you why: parental pressure. It seems that the whole "violence in video games" controversy was just as hot then as it is now, and Wizard thought that if they were to throw a little levity into the mix it might ease some concern. Apparently it didn't, seeing as how most retailers refused to carry the title and the original game cartridge is extremely rare today. Most people have never played it and many never even knew it existed.


TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE VIDEO GAME - Atari 2600 - Game Cartridge

And whatever happened to Wizard? Well, thanks to the fact that nobody actually purchased their wares, they quickly went out of business and were never heard from again. All that is left of their little legacy are video game versions of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, which is a much better play. They also programmed a take on Flesh Gordon, but unfortunately it was never released.

Thanks to the ingenuity of gamers today, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre can easily be played by downloading the ROM off of the Internet and loading it into your trusty Atari 2600 Emulator. You do have one, don't you? A little poke and peek around the web should turn up what you're looking for, but be forewarned that due to some bizarre legalities, it is a crime to download the ROM unless you already own the original Atari cartridge. Why would you download the ROM if you already own the cartridge?

Therein lies the beauty of the judicial system.

--J/Metro

Friday, April 24, 2009

Movie Review: Route 666 (2001)

Route 666
ROUTE 666 - Just off the hipster highway horror - cover image

Written by Scott Fivelson, Thomas Weber, & William Wesley
Directed by Bill Wesley

Lou Diamond Phillips .... Jack La Roca
Lori Petty .... Stephanie
Steven Williams .... Rabbit
L.Q. Jones .... Sheriff Bob Conaway

U.S. Marshall Jack and his partner Stephanie have tracked down Rabbit, a flamboyant mafia accountant who promised to testify in court against his employers, but fled before the trial. They have less than 24 hours to get Rabbit across state lines and into court. Unfortunately, the mob has located Rabbit too, and they want him dead.

ROUTE 666 - Just off the hipster highway horror - LDP & Rabbit

To escape the hitman and make the deadline, Jack goes against Rabbit's advice and leaves the hipster highway of Route 66 for the dangerous--and theoretically cursed--Route 666, despite the fact that it's been condemned for thirty years. It seems that in the late 60's, an inmate work crew was slaughtered by their road boss and buried beneath the pavement. Ever since, the road has been haunted by the bloodthirsty spirits.

They find themselves broken down in the desert, plagued by zombies, hunted by the mob and harassed by the local authorities. Jack has been having strange flashback-hallucinations that link his father to the whole ordeal, and to seal the deal the Sheriff knows the truth behind the hauntings.

Can they possibly survive?

Could we possibly care less? If you could, give it 30 minutes and you'll come around.

This was like a melting pot of a hundred different genre pieces. The meeting in the board room must have gone something like this: "I've got a great idea. We'll make a road movie! With Federal Marshals like Tommy Lee Jones, and we'll get that chick from Tank Girl! Hey….a love story! And zombies! Yeah, zombies! And a mystical shaman! And one Marshall is trying to reconnect with has father! Ooooh! And crooked cops! Everyone loves crooked cops! We can't lose!"

ROUTE 666 - Just off the hipster highway horror - LDP Vs. Zombies

Lou Diamond Phillips is a decent enough actor but his tough-guy, too-cool-for-school attitude gets tiresome quickly. The special effects are rather lame and the ground-rules don't make any sense (because they're buried in the road, they can't leave the road. No, wait! They can appear on concrete too, but they can't walk on dirt.) Much of the dialogue was lame--"You're the reason the spirits are restless! You're the reason my father can't rest!"--and even the prospect of seeing someone jackhammered to death fails to save this turkey.

Stay off this road.

2001
Rated R
90 Minutes
Color
United States/Canada
English

"I don't care if you're fucking Santa Claus!"
--J/Metro

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Review: Frank's World by George Mangels

Frank's World


FRANK'S WORLD by George Mangels - Vomit-of-Consciousness Horror - Book Cover
by
George Mangels


Frank's World is quite a bizarre little read. A run-of-the-mill review won't even begin to do it justice, so what follows is a review/diatribe written in emulation of Mangels' own, unique, narrative style.
Frank is the worst kind of person, a slug, a psychic thug, a pirate, a low-rent gangster in a well-worn suit--a suit of greasy, folded, flapping flesh that drapes over cold bones like the Grim Reaper's silken robes of death. He doesn't MOVE through our world so much as he SLIDES through it, a psychotic iceberg with evil sentience and foul, broken teeth. It's not even our world anymore, not really. It's Frank's World now. It stopped being ours as soon as HE came into it, a slippery and partially formed mess of human DNA clawing his way out through his mother's birth canal, her womb now so TOXIC from his extended stay that she will never be able to conceive another child, not that she would want another child, not after seeing the way that Baby Frank looked at her with his beady black eyes, sending mental Ginsu blades even at such an early age. It was frightening, it was disturbing, it was OBSCENE, really, and that right there would be enough to ruin one's day if not one's life. You see, that's Frank's natural--or perhaps SUPER-natural--ability: to ruin your life simply by being in his presence. His sleazy aura, the color of moldy Twinkies and stuff better left wrapped up in a tissue and tossed in the trash, has a way of creeping inside you, through your eyes or ears or nose of maybe just absorbed through the pores like osmosis, and once there, once it's inside you, it TAINTS you, starts to eat away at your soul, dissolves your mind into a puddle of mush, claws at your heart and dry-humps your cockles, performs a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick on your conscience, and consumes your future like it was a soccer team trapped in the Andes. This ability, as far as abilities go, isn't exactly one that can be used for good, which is why no one will confess to giving it--not God, not Buddha, not Allah, not Mohammad, not Zeus or Odin or Mars or Athena, not Billy Graham or the Pope or Tammy Faye Baker, not even the Devil himself, which suits Frank just fine. He's perfectly content being a self-made madman, a genetic and spiritual anomaly that no one can or no one will lay claim to.

Yes, this is Frank's World now, and we're all just living in it, trying our best to simply stay out of his way and not let him get too close lest he digest our good nature and shit it out like he has done to so many people over the course of his vile, disgusting life and all of his vile, disgusting lives that have come before.

The character of Frank is lifted, borrowed, stolen, pillaged, escaped from, David Lynch's BLUE VELVET, a meta-fictional refugee from a fictional film into the real world--Frank's World--and the author makes no qualms about telling us so, just like he makes no qualms about telling us that our existence is fucked and quite likely to end at the drop of a hat, perhaps a top hat or a bowler or a beret or even a baseball cap with the Angels insignia on it, which would be ironic seeing as how there are no angels here, just demons and devils and the possessed as far as the eye can see--maybe a mile on a good day, not taking into account toxic smog and astigmatism, of course. But don't hold this minor theft against the author, he's not the first to do so after all, William S. Burroughs, the late great 'El Hombre Invisible' did it all the time, take Salt Chunk Mary, for example, she herself a refugee from someone else's work and maybe in time she will sidestep her new world--WILLIAM'S WORLD--for yet another world, hell, maybe even Frank's World, maybe they're bedding down right now for a long night of GRUDGE FUCKING (a man like Frank doesn't know the meaning of making love), and if that wouldn't be fitting, I don't know what would be, because Burroughs has got to be as big an influence on this book as David Lynch and LSD and peyote and mescaline and Babes in Toyland and the worst nightmares of the Collective Unconscious and the Atom Bomb and the Hydrogen Bomb and the Nuclear Bomb and Dirty Bombs and Black Cat Firecrackers and anything that goes BAM! BANG! or BUMP! in the night.

What George Mangels has managed to do here is release a torrid stream-of-consciousness text--hell, the RED-SEA of consciousness--but not HIS consciousness, no, that would be too easy, any monkey with a typewriter and an ounce of luck could do that, but a fictional character's consciousness, and it doesn't so much as FLOW across the page as it does EXPLODE upon the page, seemingly from the deepest recesses of this character's soul--it's VOMIT-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS, littered liberally with pop culture references and terrible, terrible visions of talking trees and lizard people and sticks of butter that may or may not feel pain. It's a trip like you've never had before, and if Mangels doesn't get off of his couch--a second hand thing with mysterious stains and a musky aroma that emanates in invisible clouds anytime the fibers are disturbed and a trail-mix medley of human hair, belly button lint, Cheetos, unpopped popcorn kernels, and pocket change hidden beneath the sagging cushions--then it's quite likely that you'll never find a ride quite like it again. I've read it dozens of times, each time driven a little more mad, a little more loony, a little more loopy, a little more schitzo, a little more crazy, a little more FUCKING INSANE, but now my eyes are open wide as saucers and can see the shadows lingering everywhere, creeping in, ready to consume, and it's my mission to preach this greasy gospel, this unholy book, to the world at large. Why? WHY? Because you need to know what's out there, what's lurking, what's waiting, what's liable to pounce upon you at any given moment. You may think that you're safe at home, in your own little world, but you're wrong.

This isn't your world at all.

This is Frank's World.
--J/Metro

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Movie Review: Grain (2006)

Grain
 GRAIN - photography horror from Joseph Ort - Poster Image

Written & Directed by Joseph Ort

Slava Roman...Robert Smith
Brian Houston...Johnny B
Kimberly Peterson...Autumn Stevens

Photography students Robert Smith and Johnny B are paired up for an assignment, but a combination of technical problems and general incompetence causes it to not go so well. To counteract this ding in their GPA, they sign up for extra-credit and head out to the National Park to shoot some nature pics. Amongst the rocks and trees and bountiful expanse of wilderness, they stumble across something a little less natural: a strange man burying what appears to be a body wrapped in black plastic.

Robert, who would seem to be more at home as a photojournalist than snapping Glamor Shots, fires off a few frames of film until their cover is blown. They successfully flee from the stranger, only to return later that night to seek proof of what they believe they saw. They find a body, all right, only it's the body of a dog. Johnny is quickly convinced that it was just a man burying his family pet, but Robert still has concerns. More than concerns, he has suspicions. And more than suspicions, he has an obsession. Robert is sure that the stranger he saw in the park has killed someone, and he's going to make damned sure that he finds the proof he needs.

Robert doesn't spend all his time obsessing over this possible murder. In the off-hours, he obsesses over Autumn, the drop-dead gorgeous blond bombshell who is also in his photography class. Initially, his talk of "following the path laid out before him" and such comes off as philosophical--almost Beatific or Buddhist--but the more he obsesses, the more dangerous it begins to sound. Not Zen at all...but more like a stalker, someone who could easily claim that he and Autumn were destined to be together, that Fate laid them on this path side-by-side, that it was meant to be! So what do you do when the hero is unstable and a bit of a creep? I suppose that you keep on rooting for him, and hope that he can keep himself in check.

Grain is shot-on-video, which gives it a distinctly amateur flavor from the get-go. This homemade quality works well on films that showcase supposedly homemade footage (Blair Witch, REC, Video X), but here it just seems cheap. There's a reason for that, though. This movie is cheap, shot for an estimated $4K according to the occasionally-accurate IMDB. But, ten or fifteen minutes in, once your Hollywood mindset has had an opportunity to adjust to the DIY side of the rainbow, it's no longer all that distracting, and you can enjoy and appreciate the hard work that obviously went into making this movie. There are interesting camera shots and angles (most of which work in the film's favor), some creepy scoring, and a fairly decent sense of underlying dread throughout.

The acting does seem a bit rusty at times, but seeing as how this was the studio's first (and so far, only) feature film, that can be easily overlooked. The characters were believable, which is the important part: they're not superheroes, they're not bad-asses, and they're not action stars. They're real people caught up in a real, terrifying situation, and they act accordingly. Sometimes in disbelief, sometimes in denial, and sometimes quite stupidly. Just like any of us might in a similar situation.

There were some bizarre, almost otherworldly sequences of the movie--dark visions, nightmares, dreams-within-dreams, etc.--that have caused more than a few people to compare it to the work of David Lynch. It's understandable, but not entirely accurate. David Lynch seems to be weird for the sake of being weird, perfectly willing to sacrifice intelligibility for illegibility, while Grain, well....makes sense. If anything, I'd say that with it's voyeuristic sense of suspense, it was Rear Window on wheels for the underground set.

My only major qualm with the picture was it's running length. Clocking in at just under two hours, a little trimming could have not only made the plot a bit tighter, but also helped with its marketability. These days, sitting down to a long movie, especially when it comes from a director who has not yet necessarily carved out his own fan base, is quite a commitment.

Luckily, I'm deeply committed to plopping ass on the couch for long stretches of time. If I weren't, I would have nothing to write about, now would I?

I can safely recommend this movie to fans of independent film making, and people who are tired of the mundane PG-13 WB-casted thrillers that populate the local cinema. I look forward to more from this studio in the future.

2006
Unrated
110 Minutes
Color
United States
English

--J/Metro

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bastard Zen: The 9 Chambers

It's my birthday, and I'll be self-aggrandizing and pretentious if I want to!

(I am the Bastard. This is my Zen.)
MIDNITE MEDIA: BASTARD ZEN - THE NINE CHAMBERS(click to enlarge)

--J/Metro

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Review: Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk

Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean
READING COMICS: HOW GRAPHIC NOVELS WORK AND WHAT THEY MEAN by Douglas Wolk - Cover Image
By Douglas Wolk

This book is separated into two main sections. The first, called ‘Theory and History’, proposes to be a serious study of the art form, and does indeed take itself quite seriously. Perhaps TOO seriously, as it struggles against the tide to find hidden truths and meanings where there probably are none. For instance, the cover of DC Comics’ Showcase #4–the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash–doesn’t just show the Flash running at great speeds and bursting right through the page. Instead, it “tells in miniature the early history of the understanding and misunderstanding of comics.” And on the cover of Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man #31, where it claims to be dedicated to the ‘Great New Breed of Marvel Readers’, it isn’t just Stan Lee doing his Stan Lee thing. It’s Lee “setting up the idiotic brand rivalry between Marvel and…DC.”

READING COMICS: HOW GRAPHIC NOVELS WORK AND WHAT THEY MEAN by Douglas Wolk - Amazing Spider-Man #31READING COMICS: HOW GRAPHIC NOVELS WORK AND WHAT THEY MEAN by Douglas Wolk - Showcase #4

Idiotic. This is where it becomes evident that this isn’t the instructive textbook and primer that the title would suggest. It is a book of criticism and personal views, which is fine, if not for the fact that we had been mislead. Perhaps the author should have paid a bit more attention to his own cover, and a bit less attention to the covers of the Big Two. I do have to hand it to the guy, though. He made it through all of six pages before his true colors started to bleed through the black and white lines of his setup.

By the time that he has divided comics into two distinctive types–Mainstream Comics and Art Comics–you understand that this is all a bit pretentious. Wolk even performs a nine page interview with himself, as if this were one of Platos’ dialogs.

The second, longer section of the book is entitled ‘Reviews and Commentaries’, and you quite quickly get the impression that this was the book that he wanted to write all along. As to be expected, he spends more time on ‘Art Comics’ such as the work of Chester Brown, the Hernandez Brothers and Art Spiegelman, but he does indeed give time to Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Steve Ditko as well. There’s even a chapter dedicated to Marvel’s “classic” Tomb of Dracula series!

This is where the book really shines. Wolk is a gifted critic when he’s not trying to be something else, and his coverage has prompted me to search out some titles that I probably never would have otherwise. There’s still a fair bit of pretentiousness here, but to be fair, I don’t think one can be a Serious Critic without having their own pretensions.

All in all, Reading Comics was an entertaining (if not infuriating) read. I don’t agree with much of what the author was saying, but I don’t have to. That’s kind of the point. As Wolk himself says in reference to the work of the infamous Dave Sim: “It demands a response in the readers mind, and if you can see past ‘What a total dick’, you’re likely to come out of it with your own thoughts [on the subject]…clarified.”

Recommended for those who lean more toward the indie side of the bookshelf, or those looking to find something new that may interest them. If you are strictly a meat-and-potatoes, capes-and-tights kind of guy, you will probably want to just leave this one alone.

At least he gave proper props to my man, Fred Hembeck!
--J/Metro

2008
416 Pages
De Capo Press

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Regarding Henry: My Rational Fear...

Regarding Henry:
My Rational Fear of an Irrational Killer (or Vice Versa)

(WARNING: Thar Bee Spoilers Here!)

A few years back, while fumbling through the bargain bin at Blockbuster Video, I came upon a tape with a black matte cover, a photograph of Michael Rooker centered on the front, looking rather depraved and manic in his undershirt, staring at his own reflection in the bathroom mirror. "Totally uncut and uncensored," it was the director's edition of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, ostensibly based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Needless to say, I took Henry home with me that day, and I curled up in my patchwork throne for a few hours of viewing pleasure.

I came to find out that the viewing was anything but pleasurable. I was disgusted, shocked, appalled and ultimately disturbed. Yet I could not look away. Henry, with its unsettlingly realistic depictions of murder, proved to have all the bizarre lure of a highway traffic accident. As humans, we can not help but rubberneck.

What is perhaps most astounding is Henry's staying power. Long after the film was over, that general feeling of unease lingered on. A shower did nothing to cleanse me, a cigarette did little to calm my nerves, and a good night's sleep was out of the question. Instead, the video sat untouched on the shelf, collecting dust and mocking me.

And then I found the sequel.

Sucker for punishment and self-torture that I am, I pulled up the old patchwork throne once again and settled down for a Henry double feature.

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
The opening credits roll over a score that is haunting if for no other reason than because I already know what is to come. We meet Henry in a small diner, where he interacts with the waitress and we immediately see how normal he appears. He's friendly, he's handsome, he drives a shitty car, he listens to rock music, and he smokes Kools. He's just like one of us, only we know he's not because of the scenes that keep flashing on screen, apparently depicting at random Henry's former victims, all beautiful and mostly nude women—lying in the forest, floating in the river, or sitting in the bathroom with a coke bottle shoved down her throat. Certainly these shots appear random, and for good reason. That is exactly how Henry kills.

Henry travels to the mall, where he goes "shopping," waiting in his car and searching for his next victim. Once she is chosen, he follows her out of the parking lot and into a busy city street, showing us that you're safe nowhere. She leads him to her house, but Henry drives off when her husband appears in the yard. Instead, he opts for a hitchhiker, but the scene fades to black before anything happens, unwilling to show us Henry in action just yet.

Next, we're introduced to Otis, Henry's roommate who is picking up his sister Becky at the airport. She's just left her husband, and Otis lectures her about her poor choice in men, unaware of what her future holds. Becky is obviously enamored with Henry from their first meeting, when he bestows Otis with the gift of an acoustic guitar, pried from the cold dead hands of the hitchhiker. Henry turns on the charm for Becky, which seems all too natural for him and is how we imagine most serial killers bait their victims.

When we see Otis dealing drugs outside of the gas station where he works, we're given a better glimpse at what kind of a person he is. Definitely the criminal type, we also see him ogling a young high school boy who's looking for some marijuana.

We can only assume that drugs were the cause of Otis's stint in the prison where he met Henry, doing time for murdering his own mother, although whether it was with a baseball bat, knife or gun, it's unclear to even Him. Becky confesses to Henry that her father was both physically and sexually abusive, which paved the way for Otis's later behavior. Henry says that his mother was a whore, constantly taking men up into their apartment for sex and that on certain occasions they would make him wear a dress and watch. On his fourteenth birthday, one way or another, Henry murdered his mother and whatever man she was currently bedded down with. This would obviously be a basis for Henry's contempt of women and all things of a sexual nature.

The viewer can almost see the bond between Becky and Henry forming. This bond is strengthened even more when Otis makes a pass at his own sister, and Henry steps in to stop it. Things are rather tense between the two men until Becky, in a case of history repeating itself, urges them to go out together for a beer, sweeping the problem under the rug just like her mother did for years.

They decide instead to go out looking for prostitutes, which they find and take into a dismal alley. During his climax, Henry snaps his girl's neck like a twig. Not knowing what else to do, Otis grabs his girl to keep her from running away and Henry kills her too, pulling Otis unwillingly into his world. While they go out for some burgers, Otis is quiet and moody at first, but he soon begins eating his fries with zeal. The return of his appetite goes along with his acceptance of what they've done, and when Henry begins preaching his dog-eat-dog, us-against-the-world philosophy, it all starts to make sense to him.

When the television set at the apartment breaks, Henry tells Otis, "Well, let's go shopping." We the viewers, of course, already know the double meaning here. They're preparing to purchase a small black-and-white television and walk away when the salesman insults Henry. Having the reason he needs to murder a man (unlike the women that he kills for pleasure) they kill the salesman and take with them a large screen color television and handheld video camera. Otis is obviously obsessed with his new technology, refusing to set the camera down even when the others grow frustrated.

As they continue their murderous spree, Henry teaches Otis all the rules: Kill at random, never use the same method twice in a row or the same weapon more than once, and always keep moving. Otis seems to pay little attention to Henry's time tested method, however, simply wanting to seek and destroy, catching it all on tape. The most disturbing scene of the movie is arguably that in which they break into a house and kill the entire family. Otis begins to kiss and fondle the wife's still-warm corpse, and is only prevented from full intercourse by Henry's demands. Suddenly, the scene shifts backwards, Otis watching it on tape again and again, this time in slow motion.

When Becky tries to seduce Henry, he seems very uncomfortable and is relieved when Otis interrupts. Searching for any reason to get away, Henry goes out for a pack of cigarettes and hopefully a kill. You can see that he's trying to provoke the male cashier at the mini-mart, hoping for a reason to attack him, but finding none. Instead he returns to his apartment, and walks in on Otis raping and sodomizing Becky, on the verge of strangling her. In a rage, Henry knocks Otis off of her and, with Becky's help, they kill him. Becky goes into hysterics, proving to us once and for all that she is not like Henry. She is not a killer, just a victim who falls in love all too easily with the wrong men, again stemming from the abuse of her father.

Together, Henry and Becky hit the road talking about their future together, Henry fighting the demons inside quite possibly harder than he ever has before.

The fact that the movie ends with Henry still on the road, without the slightest hint of cops on his trail is chilling. And although Henry is based on Henry Lee Lucas, he's symbolic of much more than that. By never using the same methods twice, it's as if he's not a killer but he is all killers. This perception is strengthened by the many possible “reasons” that are hinted at throughout the course of the film: his sexual abuse, lack of education, poor prison and rehabilitation system, the media. By naming them all, the blame is not being placed on any one man or any one thing.

We're forced to realize that sometimes there is no reason for evil. Sometimes evil just is.

Interlude
I smoke myself a cigarette, pace back and forth in the alley for a moment, unsure of what to expect next. Could it possibly be worse (or is that better?) than what I just saw? I bit the bullet, slid in the DVD, and braced my tattered senses.
Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer 2
Mask Of Sanity
Henry has a new face in this film, Michael Rookers role being reprised by Neil Giuntoli, and from the first scene it's obvious that the new Henry is not going to be anywhere near effective as the old. He's too rough and tumble, not good looking enough or likable enough to gain our trust. Regardless, he's still drifting and still killing, currently staying in a homeless shelter with a creepy old man who sodomizes others while Henry is trying to sleep.

Desperate to get away from that place, he takes a job at a portable toilet delivery company. One of the workers, Kai, invites Henry to stay with him and his wife Cricket until he can find a place of his own. It is evident that, at least when he drinks, Kai is very reminiscent of Otis in that he is rude and condescending toward women, especially Cricket's niece Louisa. Louisa is said to be an excellent artist, and when we finally do see her drawings, they are bloody and murderous pictures that could have been ripped directly from Henry's memory.

One day, while coming home from school, Louisa is taunted by two young boys on bikes. Henry sees this and rushes to her aid, throwing the boys to the ground. “Find somebody else to pick on,” he tells them and instantly becomes her knight in shining armor.

When it comes into the light that Kai works a second job—that of an arsonist-for-hire involved in insurance scams—he invites Henry to become his partner. He teaches Henry the tricks of the trade, much in the same way that Henry once taught Otis, and we understand why the two have clicked so well. Henry is trying to recapture that lost friendship. While on a job, they discover a couple of runaways smoking crack inside the building that they are about to burn. Not wanting any witnesses, Henry kills them and once again drags his only friend into his twisted little world and they embark on a series of random killings.

After Kai and Cricket get sexual in front of him, Henry's sexual frustration reaches its peak. That night, they try to pick up some underage girls outside of a liquor store. When the girls leave, Henry blames Kai although he had done nothing to discourage them. That night, Louisa joins Henry in bed to fend off nightmares of the mother who abandoned her, and everybody thinks there is more going on than actually is.

Louisa approaches Cricket and accuses her of trying to steal Henry away from her. Thinking that the two are having sex, Cricket in turn tells Kai that she wants Henry out. Initially, Kai is enraged and makes to hit her, but snaps back to his old self before he does. To make up for his actions, he promises that Henry will leave.

Henry and Kai decide to go out for one last hurrah, breaking into a house and murdering a husband and wife. But when it comes down to the wire, Kai has second thoughts and Henry has to do the deed. They get in a scuffle and Henry is on the verge of killing Kai, until he promises to do whatever Henry tells him to from now on.

Later, when Henry and Louisa are left alone, she tries to seduce him. He refuses and tries to leave, but she threatens to kill herself if he does. Still, he leaves and returns with Kai and Louisa that night. They find Louisa on the living room floor, with a gun to her head. She's been waiting all night, wanting Henry to see her die. When she pulls the trigger, a series of events unfold that leave Henry's ties to the family in ashes.

And once again, Henry moves on.

Upon completion of the second film, I realize that the terror doesn't stem only from the fact that Henry is a monster, it's that he creates monsters as well. His evil is like a virus that he passes on from one to another. Even though Henry hasn't been heard from in nearly a decade, be sure that I'll be locking my doors tonight.

He's still out there, somewhere...

...and a hundred more just like him.
--J/Metro

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Movie Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2 (1998)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER 2: MASK OF SANITY - DVD  Cover Image
Mask of Sanity

Written & Directed by Chuck Parello

Neil Giuntoli .... Henry
Rich Komenich .... Kai
Kate Walsh .... Cricket
Carri Levinson .... Louisa
Daniel Allar .... Rooter

Henry (based on real serial killer Henry Lee Lucas) has returned, still drifting and still killing. He finds himself a less-than-dream job at a portable-toilet company and is offered to stay with Kai, one of his co-workers, until he gets his feet on the ground. Kai, his wife Cricket and their niece Louisa are far from a perfect family dynamic, but at least functional. That is, until Henry comes along.

Soon enough, Henry finds himself involved in the arson business that Kai moonlights in, hired by business owners who want to collect the insurance money. It pays much better than their day jobs, and it's not long before Henry is able to buy himself a car. When they stumble upon a couple of witnesses, however, it's Henry's turn to shine. He ties them to a fence and shoots them execution style. Kai soon joins Henry in his killing spree.

Toilets by day, fire by night, and now random acts of murder in between. Their calendar is pretty full, especially with Cricket competing for Kai's attention and young Louisa trying to get Henry in the sack. But when Kai realizes the monster he has become, he decides he wants out. Henry, of course, will not allow that.

The tension building around the household literally erupts and brings the movie to a screeching conclusion.

This film would have perhaps been better off as a feature independent of the Henry title. The first major problem is that the titular character was played so differently this time around than he was in the original. Secondly, the whole feel of the movie was different, nowhere near as gritty and brutal as the original. And lastly, the whole arsonist angle and multiple fire scenes seemed planted only to be flashier than the original. It was, but flash and glam isn't always a good thing.

Bottom line, a decent movie if you can resist comparing it to the original or a nice alternative to those who were unable to stomach the first.

1998
Rated R
84 Minutes
Color
United States
English

Wherefore art thou, Michael Rooker?
--J/Metro

Friday, April 17, 2009

Movie Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER - DVD Cover Image

Directed by John McNaughton
Written by Richard Fire and John McNaughton

Michael Rooker .... Henry
Tracy Arnold .... Becky
Tom Towles .... Otis

Henry is just like you or me. He's soft spoken, good looking, and polite. He's got a job and has a few close friends, just like us. Only difference is, Henry's a serial killer and a damn good one at that. Living by his golden rules of murder, Henry has killed at random and without mercy all across this country and the police have no clue. Pulling his old prison friend Otis into his world, Henry opens a can of worms for himself. Otis, armed with a video camera and anything sharp he can find, has to be kept on a very short leash. He's sexually depraved and possibly more disturbed than Henry himself.

To complicate matters, Otis's sister Becky has fallen for Henry and she wants them to run away together. Henry has feelings for her as well, but the problem is that Henry has a tendency to murder any woman he comes across. Can Otis control himself? Can love save Henry? Can you make it all the way through this movie in one sitting?

This movie is, far and away, one of the most brutally disturbing ever made. The harsh natural lighting and scarce but effective score do wonders for the mood and always keeps you on pins-and-needles. The gore is kept to a startling minimum, but you don't even notice because of the realistic portrayals of murder unfolding on screen. The supporting cast is great, but the real star here is Michael Rooker, who underplays the charming serial killer to a T. No matter how many movies I see him in, he will always be Henry to me.

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER - Michael Rooker

Not for kiddies or the squeamish; Recommended for die-hards and “true-crime” fanatics only; Followed by an inferior sequel.

1986
Rated X/Unrated
83 Minutes
Color
United States
English

--J/Metro

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Movie Review: Spider (2002)

Spider
SPIDER - Psychological thriller from David Cronenberg - Movie Poster

Written by Patrick McGrath
Directed by David Cronenberg

Ralph Fiennes .... Spider
Miranda Richardson .... Yvonne/Mrs. Cleg
Gabriel Byrne .... Bill Cleg
Lynn Redgrave .... Mrs. Wilkinson
John Neville .... Terrence
Bradley Hall .... Boy Spider

The moment Spider steps off the train in the opening scene, it's obvious that there's something wrong with him. While the rest of the passengers are walking briskly to get on with their day, checking their watches to make sure they're not late, Spider stumbles slowly across the platform, mumbling incoherently to himself, with a sock full of his valuables stuffed securely into his underwear.

SPIDER - Psychological thriller from David Cronenberg - Poor, Crazy Spider

Spider has just been released from a mental institution and is on his way to his new home, a halfway house for former mental patients as they attempt to reconnect with society. Once he arrives, he meets Mrs. Wilkinson who runs the place and becomes acquainted with Terrence, a fellow boarder who carries himself with an almost dignified air. When we witness Spider going through such pains to hide his secret notebook in his room, we can't help wonder what's written inside.

Turns out it's a journal of sorts, and when Spider reads from it or writes in it we're thrown backwards through time in a clever method of childhood flashbacks. As Spider remembers it, his father Bill was unhappy in his marriage and eventually took up with a "tart" from the local pub. When his wife caught them together, Bill brained her with a shovel, buried her in the garden, and moved his mistress right in to take her place. Spider, already a disturbed young boy, slowly slides deeper into psychosis.

SPIDER - Psychological thriller from David Cronenberg - Poor, Crazy Spider

But...something here just doesn't add up.

I won't give away the ending here, but suffice it to say that fans of Identity and Memento may find this film of interest. It's brilliantly directed with a twist ending and Ralph Fiennes does a hell of a job in the title role. But while I thought this film was excellent, it has more than its fair share of detractors. Their negative reviews are usually based on the following statements (read in a whiny, nasal voice): "It moves too slow", "It wasn't scary," or "It didn't make any sense."

It wasn't slow, it was deliberately paced. It wasn't scary because it wasn't a horror movie, it was a psychological drama. And if it didn't make any sense to you, perhaps you should watch the ending again with both eyes open. Besides, this film is about insanity, a subject which Hollywood has tried--and failed--to capture a thousand times over. Perhaps this is the first time it's been done right.

2002
Rated R
98 minutes
Color
France/Canada/United Kingdom
English

Arachnophobiacs beware!
--J/Metro

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Movie Review: Driller Killer (1979)

Driller Killer
DRILLER KILLER - gritty cult favorite slasher flick - DVD Image

Written by Nicholas St. John
Starring & Directed by Abel Ferrara

Reno is a Manhattan artist with a lot on his plate: The bills are due, he's late on rent, and his art dealer is pressuring him to finish his 'masterpiece'--a large painting of a buffalo with big black eyes that the camera seems drawn to like they were black holes. If all this weren't enough, an obnoxious garage punk rock band called--I kid you not--Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters (whose favorite song seems to have stolen the riff from the Spy Hunter theme) have moved into the apartment directly above him, and their constant (and much-needed) practicing is, to say the least, a bit distracting.

Now, Reno was obviously not the most stable of people to begin with--artists seldom are--and he wasn't living in the most stable of environments (damn near every scene has some sort of abuse, be it mental, emotional or physical) but he didn't step over the line into full-fledged lunatic until seeing an infomercial that changed his life forever. No, not the PedEgg...the Porto-Pak Battery Pack ($19.95!) that allows you to take your powertools with you anywhere. And just like any painter would, he thought to himself, "I've got to have one!"

Once the paintings start talking, there's pretty much no turning back. It's drill or be drilled, and so Reno takes his trusty Porto-Pak to the streets, where he dispatches a number of people who unfortunately left their tools at home.

The director (also the lead actor) does his best to capture the grit and grime and madness that was New York in those days, shooting in the shadows, gutters and tenements that he knew and perhaps loved. Many of the scenes are quite vicious and gruesome, which lead to its standing as a "Video Nasty" during the 1980s.

Unfortunately, the score is a mess of amateur-sounding punk, synth sound effects, and muzak. Much of the film seems padded with long shots of the band practicing, and an inexplicable (but completely forgivable) lesbian shower scene.

If not for this and its conscious attempts to be so edgy, this film may have gone beyond cult-favorite arthouse-meets-grindhouse-exploitation and ventured into the truly disturbing category populated by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. As it stands, if Taxi Driver and Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a bastard child raised by the Repo Man, it probably would have looked something like this.

Well worth a watch if you're looking for a darker alternative to Bucket of Blood, Color Me Blood Red, and others of that ilk.

1979
Unrated
96 Minutes
Color
English
United States

"What are you, out of your mind? Are you crazy?"
Perhaps...
--J/Metro

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Comic Review: Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails #1-3

Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails #1-3
(1999-2000)
Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails #1 - Cover ImageStupid, Stupid Rat Tails #2 - Cover ImageStupid, Stupid Rat Tails #3 - Cover Image

Written by Tom E. Sniegoski
Illustrated by Jeff Smith
Published by Cartoon Books

Before Fone Bone, before Smiley Bone, and before Phony Bone, there was Big Johnson Bone--mighty explorer, master trapper, and story-teller extraordinaire. When he, his pack mule, and his recently acquired talking monkey named Mr. Pip are picked up by a Texas-style twister, they're dropped smack dab in the famous Valley, and it's all too obvious that they're not in Kansas anymore. They find themselves in the midst of a territory expansion waged by the rat creatures.

Befriended by a survivor group of wildlife orphans (including a dragon who can't breathe fire, but throws a pretty mean rock), Big Johnson Bone organizes them in an effort to defeat the rat creatures, save the orphans, and stake himself another name to fame.

I was a little wary about the fact that Jeff Smith was only illustrating this time, leaving the writing up to Tom E. Sniegoski, but Sniegoski managed to capture Smith's storytelling style and tone pretty well. And I know this is basically an all-ages book, but I can't help but wonder if he was tempted to make reference to the obvious sexual double entendres nonetheless (Big Johnson, Bone, BJ Bone, etc.) The art, of course, was simple and crisp, beautifully done just as in the original series. The woodland characters were mostly just bit parts, but both Mr. Pip and Big Johnson were fleshed out rather well. Big Johnson himself seemed to possess qualities similar to his three famous descendants, but was also a character all his own. He had a story to tell for every occasion, and even though you know he was more than a little full of shit, you wanted to hear the rest of it anyway. The rat creatures were their normal, stupid selves--perhaps a little less vicious here. It was nice to see a little prehistory of the Valley, including the back story to the Tail-Cutting-Off-Day, but I must admit that I missed the more mystical aspects of the franchise that were absent here.

My only complaints would be the recurrence of the 'orphan animal' theme, which had already been used before; and three issues simply wasn't enough. It was over all too quickly, and I wanted more adventures of Pip and Johnson. It wasn't as fascinating, or as fun, or as sweepingly epic as Bone...but then again, few things in this life are.

Required reading, if you're a Bone Head.

--J/Metro

Monday, April 13, 2009

Movie Review: Carnival of Souls (1961)

Carnival of Souls
CARNIVAL OF SOULS - Surrealistic nightmare horror from Herk Harvey - Movie Poster

Written by John Clifford
Directed by Herk Harvey

Candace Hilligoss .... Mary Henry
Sidney Berger .... John Linden
Frances Feist .... Mrs. Thomas
Art Ellison .... Minister
Stan Levitt .... Dr. Samuels
Herk Harvey .... The Man

A youthful drag race turns ugly when one of the cars loses control on a bridge and plummets down to the river below. Just as the police are sure that all the passengers are as good as dead, a single survivor finds her way to the shore: Mary Henry, an organist who is understandably dazed and confused.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS - Surrealistic nightmare horror from Herk Harvey - Sole survivor Mary Henry

After the trauma of the accident, she desires a change in scenery and accepts a job in Utah, tickling the ivory for a church, despite her apparent lack of faith. When she makes the long drive to her new home, she begins having visions of a tall pale man in a pallbearer's suit, visions which will haunt her throughout the course of the film.

Mary finds a room for rent, settles into her new job and finds herself oddly drawn to the abandoned pavilions just outside of town, just as her sleazy neighbor John Linden is drawn to her. As if dealing with the visions and Linden's potential date-rape mentality weren't enough, she also seems to fade in and out of existence at the drop of a hat. Being a thoroughly modern Millie, she takes up with a psychiatrist who convinces her that it is all her imagination brought on by stress, and it needs to be confronted in order to be stopped. She decides that the pavilions are a good place to start, resulting in some classically creepy carnival scenes but not much in the way of absolution.

In desperation, she flees the town, but it isn't long before the events of weeks past catch up to her.

This cult hit is a very atmospheric time-capsule. Although the acting is a bit rough at times—usually by the bit players—there are some very good camera shots, great use of shadows, and an eerie organ score (isn't all organ music eerie?) The makeup effects obviously inspired the look of the Night Of The Living Dead zombies, and I'd be willing to wager that Stephen King has seen this film more than a few times himself: look for the ghostly gala a la The Shining and the woman-outside-of-time scenes a la The Langoliers. They're not rip-offs by any means, but it's easy to see the influence this film could have had on the genre.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS - Surrealistic nightmare horror from Herk Harvey - The Man

1961
Unrated
78 Minutes
Black & White
United States
English

"Not only do I drink really, I really drink."
--J/Metro

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Movie Review: Little Otik (2000)

Little Otik
Little Otik - Stop Motion Baby Horror - Movie Poster


Written & Directed by Jan Svankmajer

Veronika Zilková...Bozena
Jan Hartl...Karel
Kristina Adamcová...Alzbetka

A nice Czech couple have come down with Baby Fever. They see babies everywhere--held by their mothers, pushed in strollers, wrapped up in newspapers like fresh cod at the fish market. And they're just so darn cute, they decide that they've just got to have one. Unfortunately, there's a little problem with the piping, and the doctor says it's an impossibility.

But while the husband is out doing a little yard work (working out his sexual frustration, no doubt), he uncovers a large hunk of gnarled tree root. Rather than dispose of the blasted thing, he decides to do a little arts and crafts. He carves the root into a vaguely human-like form and presents it to his wife as a gift.

Does she like it? She loves it--falls in love with it, actually, thinking this hunk of wood is her new child. Obviously, she's not completely balanced. Her husband tries to speak some sense to her, but she won't listen. Instead, he plays along for nine months while she pretends that she's pregnant so as not to garner any suspicion when suddenly appearing in public with her "child".

But once she goes into "labor", something bizarre happens. Their "child", known as Otik, comes to life. Hidden from the public eye, Otik is cared for by his parents even when it becomes apparent that his growing appetite is quickly surpassing milk and formula, and landing more in the realm of human flesh.

Mmm....human flesh.

With more and more locals disappearing, the neighbors begin growing suspicious. One little girl discovers the truth and opts to take the wooden one under her wings.

This bizarre mix of folklore and Pinocchio is genuinely creepy and well worth the watch for fans of the outre, so long as you don't mind the subtitles and frankly less-than-stellar stop-motion special effects. So put on your reading glasses, plop ass on the couch, and prepare to scratch your noggin. It's a real puzzler...plus, you might have termites.

ALSO KNOWN AS: Otesanek

2000
Not Rated
132 Minutes
Color
Czech Republic
Czech (with English subtitles)

Wood, Jerry....wood.
--J/Metro

Saturday, April 11, 2009

TV Review: Hammer House of Horror: Complete Series (1980)

Hammer House of Horror
HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR - Hammer anthology TV series - DVD Cover Image
The Complete Series

This series is representative of the infamous Hammer Studios' foray into the world of television. It was an un-hosted horror anthology show, each episode with its own cast and storyline that stood independent of the others. Subject matter ranged from the supernatural to the psychological, most of which followed the traditional Hammer formula of reeling you in before the credits began to roll, and then delivering a twist ending in the episode's last moments. The show was extremely short lived but has luckily been reissued on DVD by A&E (The Arts & Entertainment Network) in a complete boxed set--all 13 episodes on four discs, featuring a complete Hammer Studios filmography, a history of Hammer Studios, and a photo gallery. Stand out episodes have been marked with a star.

1) Witching Time
In the 17th century, the beautiful witch Lucinda is about to be burned at the stake. In order to escape, she conjures up a spell and travels forward through time, landing in present day. The new owner of her property is equally shocked and appalled at his visitor, and spends much time showing her the marvels of science that have developed since her day. His wife, of course, doesn't initially believe his claims and the family doctor thinks he is delusional. Soon enough, he's questioning his own grip on reality while his wife and the witch are battling for supremacy outside.

Originally broadcast on 09.13.80; written by Anthony Read; directed by Don Leaver; starring Patricia Quinn (Lucinda Jessop), Jon Finch (David Winter), Ian McCulloch (Charles)

2) The Thirteenth Reunion
Ruth Cairns is a journalist who desperately wants to break free of her "Woman's Page" at the newspaper and get into more solid subject matter. When she is assigned to cover a new weight loss program, she is anything but thrilled. Until, that is, people begin to die off and she hears rumors about body snatching. Following her leads, she winds up at a reunion dinner for the survivors of an airplane crash in the Atlas Mountains. Fans of the film Alive should get a gruesome kick out of this episode.

Originally broadcast on 09.20.80; written by Jeremy Burnham; directed by Peter Sasdy; starring Julia Foster (Ruth Cairns), Dinah Sheridan (Gwen Cox), Richard Pearson (Sir Humphrey Chesterton), Norman Bird (Basil), Warren Clarke (Ben Faraday)

3) Rude Awakening*
Real estate agent Norman Shenley awakes from a nightmare in which he murders his wife, leaving him free to continue an affair with his secretary. After a full day of activity, he wakes up to find out that it was all just a dream. That day, he really does kill his wife and continues his affair with the secretary, only to discover it was all a dream as well. It continues in this vein throughout the episode, the viewer (or Norman) never sure what is real and what is fantasy but coming closer to the answer in every fantasy sequence.

Originally broadcast 09.27.80; written by Gerald Savory; directed by Peter Sasdy; starring Denholm Elliott (Norman Shenley), James Laurenson (Rayburn), Pat Heywood (Emily Shenley) Lucy Gutteridge (Lolly) Eleanor Summerfield (Lady Strudwick)

4) Growing Pains*
The Morton's have just adopted a new son, James, to make up for the one they lost due to the father's irresponsible science experiments. James, who seems to be one of the Children of the Damned, remains eerily calm and collected throughout the various bizarre events that unfold. Mrs. Morton thinks that James is behind it and her husband is too busy to care. When James finds an old poem that William, the deceased son, had written about his parent's lack of interest in him, it conjures up more than old memories but a vengeful ghost as well.

Originally broadcast 10.04.80; directed by Francis Megahy; starring Christopher Reilly (William Morton), Barbara Kellerman (Laurie Morton) Gary Bond (Terence Morton), Matthew Blakstad (James)

5) The House that Bled to Death
In Hammer's answer to The Amityville Horror, the Peters family move into a house that has long been empty. Many years ago an old man murdered his wife in the same house and rumor has it that it has been haunted ever since. Various spooky apparitions pop up, including a severed hand and a veritable rainstorm of blood. Eventually, one of the Peters clan is hospitalized, leading to an unexpected ending.

Originally broadcast 10.11.80; written by David Lloyd; directed by Tom Clegg; starring Emma Ridley (Sophia Peters), Nicholas Ball (William Peters), Rachel Davies (Emma Peters), Brian Croucher (George Evans), Pat Maynard (Jean Evans), Milton Johns (A.J. Powers)

6) Charlie Boy*
Graham, a young entrepreneur, inherits an African fetish--similar to a voodoo doll--upon his uncle's death. He and his girlfriend Sarah name the fetish 'Charlie Boy', and Graham finds it to be therapeutic to take out his aggression towards those who wronged him on the doll. It also proves effective, as those people begin dying off. He inadvertently curses everyone in a photograph, including Sarah and himself. The people in the photo are being killed in the order in which they were standing, and Graham has to find a way to stop it before Charlie takes his next victim. The whole 'Death's design' aspect involving the photograph is an eerie forerunner to Final Destination. This episode features a rather swingin' score that is most evident during the William Tell death scene.

Originally broadcast 10.18.80; written by Bernie Cooper and Francis Megahy; directed by Robert Young; starring Leigh Lawson (Graham), Marius Goring (Heinz), Angela Bruce (Sarah), David Healey (Peter), Michael Culver (Mark), Michael Deeks (Phil) Jeff Rawle (Franks)

7) The Silent Scream*
Fresh out of prison, Chuck Spillers takes a temporary job with Martin Brueck, a Nazi concentration camp survivor who visited him on the inside. Brueck is sort of a modern day mad scientist, whose back room at his pet shop is devoted to experiments to imprison wild animals without the use of bars but rather electrical fields. Brueck is not what he seems, as it turns out, and Chuck's job as an assistant quickly turns to being a subject of the experiments himself. Chuck's wife Annie steps in to save him but is captured as well. Upon their escape, they learn that perhaps they haven't escaped anything at all.

Genre icon and Hammer mainstay Peter Cushing portrays the mad Brueck magnificently and is the standing achievement for this somewhat ridiculous--but ultimately enjoyable--episode. Sadly, this was Cushing's final role for Hammer.

Originally broadcast on 10.25.80; written by Francis Essex; directed by Alan Gibson; guest starring Peter Cushing (Martin Brueck), Brian Cox (Chuck Spillers), Anthony Carrick (Inspector Aldridge), Elaine Donnelly (Annie Spillers), Terry Kinsella (Lionel), Robin Browne (Police Officer)

8) Children of the Full Moon*
Upon awakening from what he is told was a dream about a family of werewolves who captured he and his wife in the country, Tom Martin's nightmare has just begun. His wife, Sarah, has noticeably changed. She's much more animalistic when they make love and has developed a strange appetite for undercooked meat. It's possible that her newly discovered pregnancy has stirred up these changes, but Tom has reason to believe it's something more and that maybe, just maybe, their newborn son will take quite a liking to the rays of Lady Luna.

The effective use of spooky children, nursery rhymes and echoing laughter make for some quite chilling moments.

Originally broadcast 11.01.80; written by Murray Smith; directed by Tom Clegg; guest starring Diana Dors (Mrs Ardoy), Christopher Cazenove (Tom), Celia Gregory (Sarah), Robert Urquhart (Harry), Jacob Witkin (Woodcutter), Adrian Mann (Tibor) Sophie Kind (Eloise), Victor Wood (Sophy), Natalie Payne (Irenya), Daniel Kipling (Andreas)

9) Carpathian Eagle
Police are investigating a string of murders committed by a mod sex-kitten who goes home with men for a one night stand and then tears their hearts out. The murders closely resemble a generations-old legend that had recently resurfaced in a book so the police enlist the author to assist them in their investigation. Every time a new female character is introduced, you think to yourself "it's definitely her," and so it's effective as a murder mystery but as horror it falls a bit flat. Features a few of the funkiest bedroom sets ever seen on television.

Originally broadcast 11.08.80; written by Bernie Cooper and Francis Megahy; directed by Francis Megahy; guest starring Anthony Valentine (Inspector Clifford), Suzanne Danielle (Natalie), Pierce Brosnan (Last Victim), Siân Phillips (Mrs Henska), Barry Stanton (Tony), Jonathan Kent (Tadek Kuchinsky), Matthew Long (Andy), Gary Waldhorn (Bacharach), Jeffry Wickham (Edgar)

10) Guardian of the Abyss
Australian antique dealer Laura Stephens wins an odd looking mirror at an estate auction, following the advice given to her by her horoscope. A devilish looking man by the name of Simon Andrews offers to purchase the mirror from her for a measly sum, which she almost accepts, but her friend and fellow dealer Mike Roberts offers to have it appraised before she sells it. Suddenly, Simon ups his offer ten-fold, and it is obvious that this mirror is worth much more than Simon is letting on.

Driving home with the mirror, Mike picks up a terrified hitchhiker on the road, a young girl named Alison who has narrowly escaped from a satanic cult that had horrible plans in store for her. Alison sees the mirror and tells Mike that it is actually a scrying glass, used in occult practices and possibly made by a famous alchemist named John Dee. When Mike isn't looking, Alison takes the glass and disappears into the night.

Mike vows to find the glass and return it to Laura, but his investigation leads him into the arms of the dangerous cult from which Alison herself had barely escaped.

Originally broadcast 11.15.80; written by David Fisher; directed by Don Sharp; guest starring Rosalyn Landor (Alison), Ray Lonnen (Michael Roberts), John Carson (Charles Randolph), Paul Darrow (Simon Andrews), Barbara Ewing (Laura Stephens), Caroline Langrishe (Tina)

11) Visitor from the Grave*
When Penny, a former mental patient, is threatened and nearly raped by professional gambler Charlie Willoughby, she shoots him with a shotgun. Penny's boyfriend Harry returns the next morning and encourages her to cover up the murder, telling her that they will institutionalize her again if anyone were to ever find out. She goes along with the idea because she has no intentions of going back to the asylum, but it's not long before Penny begins seeing ghostly visions of Charlie. They enlist the help of a mediocre medium and a powerful swami, but has Charlie really returned from the grave or is Penny merely cracking up again? Or is there something even more nefarious at work here?

Originally broadcast 11.22.80; written by John Elder; directed by Peter Sasdy; guest starring Kathryn Leigh Scott (Penny), Simon MacCorkindale (Harry), Gareth Thomas (Richard/Gupta), Mia Nadasi (Margaret), Stanley Lebor (Charles), Gordon Reid (Max)

12) The Two Faces of Evil
Janet Lewis and her family are on a holiday drive during a torrential downpour. When they see a man walking through the rain, they stop to offer him a ride. The stranger accepts but once the car is moving again he attacks Mr. Lewis who is driving and causes a horrible accident. All three of the family members awake in the hospital, banged up but alive, and are told that the stranger did not survive the crash. Returning home from the hospital, Janet finds that her husband is acting very strangely, almost like a completely different person. Could this be a case of British body-snatchers with bad teeth? It looks like it just might.

On an interesting side note, excerpts from this episode were supposedly later used in a public service announcement that warned drivers about the hazards of picking up hitchhikers.

Originally broadcast 11.29.80; directed by Alan Gibson; guest starring Jenny Laird (Mrs. Roberts), Jeremy Longhurst (Dr. Cummings), William Moore (Mr. Roberts), Anna Calder-Marshall (Janet Lewis), Gary Raymond (Martin Lewis), Paul Hawkins (David Lewis), Philip Latham (Hargreaves), Pauline Delany (Sister), Brenda Dowling (Nurse Davies), Mike Savage (P.C. Jenkins), Malcolm Hayes (Attendant)

13) The Mark of Satan*
An unstable man undergoes emergency surgery after puncturing his brain with an electric drill in order to rid himself of the devil he believes has possessed him. He dies on the operating table and the coroner who works up his corpse injures himself while sewing the body back up. Because of this blood sacrifice, as it were, the coroner has been chosen as the devil's next disciple. Or perhaps he has just gone mad. A conspiracy of evil, crooked cops, matricide, debilitating paranoia and numerology all add up to create a hellacious good ride.

Originally broadcast 12.06.80; written by Don Shaw; directed by Don Leaver; guest starring Annie Dyson (Mrs Rord), Conrad Phillips (Dr Manders), Emrys James (Dr. Harris), Georgina Hale (Stella), Peter McEnery (Edwyn Rord), Peter Birrell (Markham), Anthony Brown (Priest), Peter Cartwright (Surgeon), James Duggan (Simpson), Andrew Bradford (Steve), James Curran (Pritchard), Crispin Gillbard (Policeman)

September 1980-December 1980
60 minutes per episode
Network ITV1
Color
United Kingdom
English


--J/Metro

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