Tuesday, August 19, 2008

SOME MONSTERS THAT NEVER QUITE CAUGHT ON WITH THE PUBLIC


The Guy Of Average Height and Weight Of Notre Dame

The WereCareBears

Demonkey

That Darn Gorgon

Thogdarr, The Creature That Talks To You On The Bus

The Olive Loaf of Dorian Gray

Nibbula, Hamster of Dracula!

WereWaldo?

Milli Godzilli

The Phantom Of The Lady Foot Locker

Dr. Six Nipples, The Man With Six Nipples

Mantelope

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Baron's Bestiary - Chapter 1

My last post’s thumbs up for monsters set my brainbox ta’jigglin’. In my day I’ve rubbed elbows with a monster or two. Times ten to the sixth. Which monsters have made my timbers the shiveriest?

Culling this down to a mere, shopworn Top 10 would be a transgression against popular culture on par with greenlighting Flavor Of Love. My knowledge on this subject is entirely too encyclopedic for that sort of brevity. I will, however, commit to ten at a time and in no particular order. This will give those of you viewing at home the chance to chime in and play along. Fun! Here are the rules:

1) The monster may come from any medium: urban legend, movies, litter-at-chore, comicbooks, anything.
2) I will accept a “villain” or “bad guy” as a monster as long as he, she or it has an unnatural element. This element may be supernatural, paranormal, extraterrestrial, cryptozoological, downright bizarre or generally freakish.
3) The monster needs to have panache, preferably in its actions as well as its attributes. The kind of monsters that lesser monsters were spun off from.
4) The first person to say Darth Vader gets rabbit-punched in the Adam’s apple.

Ready? Ding ding! Round 1!

THE GILL-MAN aka THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON



WHY? The Big Five. The Classics. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy and this guy. Universal’s stable of monsters is arguably the most iconic in American culture and the Gill-Man stands out not only for being the only one that was not based on myth or classic literature, but for looking so damn good doing it. THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON came out over half a century ago and the character design (attributed to make-up artist Bud Westmore but actually created by Disney animator Millicent Patrick) is still superior to 90% of the monster work produced today.
TRIVIA: A CFTBL remake has been in the works since 2001, in the aftermath of the catastrophic and unexplainable success of Universal’s blockbuster turdapalooza, THE MUMMY, and may or may not be released in 2009. In this version, the Gill-Man is no longer an evolutionary throwback but the result of pharmaceutical companies tampering with nature – so there’s cliché strike one right there. The film is being directed by the son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Breck Eisner, whose film credits include being the son of Michael Eisner.

THE MONSTER SQUAD GILL-MAN



WHY? Because Fred Dekker’s cult classic THE MONSTER SQUAD is one of the only monster movies out there that lives up to the oxymoron of being “fun for all ages” and the magnificent detail of the Gill-Man suit, created at Stan Winston Studios by my favorite monster maker ever, Steve Wang, achieves the unenviable task of being a worthy second act to the original Gill-Man.
TRIVIA: Since THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is the only one of the aforementioned Big Five that is a strictly Universal Studios property, Dekker avoided being sued back into the Bronze Age by referring to the monster only as “the Gill-Man” throughout THE MONSTER SQUAD.

THE TAR-MAN



WHY? As the first zombie released from its military canister in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, Tar-Man’s glassy stare, melting flesh, spastic movements and warbling hiss cemented him in position as The Best Zombie In The History Of Ever. Tar-Man’s sequence in ROTLD should be required viewing for any filmmaker that sees CGI as a default.
TRIVIA: The Tar-Man was played to gangly perfection by professional mime and Jim Henson Company puppeteer, Allan Trautman. That means Tar-Man has had his hand up a Fraggle’s ass.

THAT PASTY GOBLIN FROM THE EIGHTH EPISODE OF ‘TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE’



WHY? Dubbed “Lizzie” by her creator and director, horror fx legend and execrable actor Tom Savini, this cuddly bundle of snuggles helped wedge the first season of TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE into the aorta of horror fans everywhere. Shrunken, slimy and with a taste for co-eds, I can personally vouch for the nightmare-inducing qualities of that particular episode.
TRIVIA: For years I thought that Lizzie was one of the most original creature designs I had ever seen. Then I saw a copy of STRANGE TALES from October 1932.



Let this be a lesson to you all. Never throw away your old comic books. You never know when a 50 year old illustration will make you seem clever.

THOSE PRUNY GOBLINS FROM ‘DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK’



WHY? Creepiest. Made-for-TV movie. Ever. Kim Darby plays a young wife struggling with a schizophrenic disorder, so why would anyone believe her when a clan of tiny, furry demons that look like Edward Horton try to pull her into the fireplace? They wouldn’t. Too bad, so sad, buhbye Kim Darby.
TRIVIA: Tick tock goes the remake clock. Miramax is already helming a redux of DBAOTD that will be directed by Canadian comic book artist, Troy Nixey. Sounds iffy, huh? What if I told you Guillermo Del Toro was producing it? See that? See how it seems so awesome now? Hu-hoh yeah.

CTHULHU



WHY? Millions love him while millions more have never heard of him. H.P. Lovecraft is at once the most influential and under-appreciated horror author I can think of. His most enduring work are the “Cthulhu Mythos,” an entire ecosystem of cross-dimensional monstrosities, complete with its own pantheon of bubbling, tentacled Elder Gods of which Cthulhu was boss. Octopus headed, toad bodied, enshrouded with rotting, leathern wings, Cthulhu was supposedly so malignant and antithetical to human existence that just dreaming of it would drive a man utterly bonkers. Lovecraft’s ability to describe the indescribable in his writing blazed a trail for dozens of writers including Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth – even Stephen King dipped his toe in Mythos with THE MIST – but ironically, this talent of Lovecraft’s may be exactly why so few of his works have been successfully translated to film. The cosmic terror of a Cthulhu is just too massive and indefinable to be captured by anything except the imagination. The most faithful film adaptation of a Lovecraft story is probably Dan O’Bannon’s THE RESURRECTED, a faithful retelling of Lovecraft’s short story THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD. And if one imagines the monster from Dean Koontz’ PHANTOMS to be Shub Niggurath (translation: Cthulhu’s slutty sister), that movie instantly gets better. We just need to keep hoping that Guillermo Del Toro still wants to do THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS after he’s done cashing all his HOBBIT checks.
TRIVIA: Despite being the most powerful of all the Elder Gods who ruled the earth millennia before the Dawn of Man, Cthulhu is perhaps best known today for playing Davy Jones in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies.

SANTANICO PANDEMONIUM



WHY? Important safety tip. If one is frequenting a gentlemen’s establishment for, say, le boobies, one should expect to hear the DJ announcing succulent moisties going by names like “Cinnamon” or “Dakota.” Safe, established stripper aliases. But if a hot toddy is telling you her name is “Santanico Pandemonium” up front, that’s a clue. Grab your sack and run.

I’ll own up to my bias. Santanico as one of the coolest monsters ever? Oh sure, reptilian snake vampiresses are way up there, but for pure monstrosity I think that both Amanda Donohoe in LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM and Jacqueline Pearce in Hammer’s THE REPTILE are far more engaging. But this one goes out to the little baron. Salma Hayek could not be hotter if she was made out of wasabi and napalm. I have never had a conversation about FROM DUSK TILL DAWN with a straight man that did not revolve around Santanico’s table dance. And I have never had a conversation about FROM DUSK TILL DAWN with a gay man.
TRIVIA: Besides this legendary appearance in FDTD, Salma also appears in Robert Rodriguez’ often overlooked bodysnatcher flick, THE FACULTY, a movie that ranks high on my roster of guilty pleasures. When you consider her willingness to work with (high profile but still) counter culture directors like Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, while still having the chops to pull off a tour de force like FRIDA, she might well be one of Hollywood’s coolest actresses in addition to being the hottest.

THE CENOBITES



WHY?
“HEY! You got your bondage sex in my horror! “
“HEY! You got your horror in my bondage sex!”
“HEY!!! That’s terrific!!!”


Clive Barker and his leather-clad demon daddies did as much to open up the horizon of horror as Giger’s design for the xenomorph in ALIEN did for sci-fi. As if the burning lake wasn’t bad enough, HELLRAISER opened up our minds to the notion that eternal torment could just as easily involve fishhooks and our poop chutes. Stay in school, kids.
TRIVIA: Pinhead is considered a sex symbol in Japan. Which is why you should never have sex in Japan.

DOCTOR TERWILLIGER



WHY? Played to megalomaniacal perfection by the irreplaceable Hans Conreid, the title character from the 1953 musical fantasy, THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T., is an ivory key despot imprisoning 500 young children in his impossibly fantastic piano camp gulag, where every non-piano playing musician in the world is being kept in the dungeon. Think Lex Luthor meets Liberace. Among his henchmen are a pair of rollerskating Siamese twins connected by their ZZ Topp beards. I guarantee you that Tim Burton has worn out his DVD of this film about eight times.
TRIVIA: The 5000 FINGERS OF DR.T is the only full length motion picture to be written by Dr. Seuss. You can only rhyme ‘hop’ and ‘pop’ so many times before you snap like a Kit Kat and write something entirely misanthropic.

THE DALEKS



WHY? Have you ever wondered why so many “aliens” from “different” worlds all have two legs, two arms, more often than not, a face, as well as an uncanny grasp of the English language? Buh-HOR-riiiiiiing. That’s why I love the Daleks so much. Not only are they singlemindedly genocidal, but they pull it off looking like giant pepper mills. Seriously, how menacing do you have to be to compensate for having a plunger hand. Lots menacing. And yet, the Daleks have been pulling it off in the various incarnations of DOCTOR WHO for the better part of half a century. Just last year, these villainous vibrators were voted the “scariest” of the Doctor’s villains by a poll of BBC viewers. (Now, if there was a Dentist Who, then those Brits would really be crapping their knickers.)
TRIVIA: The Daleks were created by veteran BBC production designer Raymond Cusick because a 25 year old set designer by the name of Ridley Scott turned the gig down. Too bad – that Scott kid probably could have made a name for himself if he hadn't been such a slacker.

(ahem)

And the Daleks make ten. A fine maiden outing, says I. I’ve already got the next ten lined up but please, try and complicate my life with your own observations.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

MY HIGH HORSE OF HORROR

Eventually, I'm going to talk about the French horror film, INSIDE. I'm also going to tell you how it ends, partly because I want to ruin it for you. By the time you get there, you'll understand why.

I have an enormous problem with the spate of "torture horror" films these days. I'm referring to films where the horror is all too human and the violence, which tends to be prodigious, isn't borne of a voodoo curse or an alien's genetic imperative to lay eggs in your butt. It's just sadism. The HOSTEL films, THEM (2007), THE STRANGERS, VACANCY, P2, CAPTIVITY, TURISTAS, remakes of PROM NIGHT, THE HITCHER, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS...yadda yadda yadda. I find these films to be at best creatively lazy and at worst culturally damaging.

The evil that men do is not entertainment. If it was, we'd have a CSPAN for Darfur by now that would make American Idol look like a cable access hog report. Horror movies are supposed to be a break from reality. In order for us to suspend our disbelief, give us something to disbelieve in. Give us a MONSTER! And don't feel that you need to hold back, either. The ghost of a cremated pedophile? I'm intrigued. A demonic, self-mutilating leather daddy and his carpool buddies from hell? Do go on. You don't even have to work that hard. Did any of you see CREEP (2005)? It's in that same awry-experiment mutant genre as THE HILLS HAVE EYES, only the writer/director assumed that his audience had an I.Q. above room temperature. That's really all it takes. And then, to keep us on our toes, every once in a blue moon, lightly pepper in a believable sociopath. A Hannibal Lechter. A Henry. The AntiDundee from WOLF CREEK, even. But make them the exceptions, not the rule. Give our psyches some time to heal over before you squirt lemon all over them again by reminding us how scary the world is.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking.

"But Baron, isn't man truly the biggest monster of them all?"

Please know that your half-baked, freshman philosophy class nihilism is causing me actual, physical pain. You want to vilify the human condition, Moonbeam? Go watch SCHINDLER'S LIST. There's a reason that horror and sci-fi and fantasy share space in convention halls as well as in the hearts of nerds worldwide: it's all about fracking make-believe. When a movie is just about violence and sadism, that makes it too real - even if the story framed around it happens to be fiction. It takes so little effort to push that same violence into the realm of fantasy. The killers were dead but now they're only sorta dead. See? See how easy?

I'm assuming, of course, that we can all agree that movies are meant to entertain. They're meant to add to our lives in some way, even if it's just a 90 minute vacation from hearing about war and inflation and celebrity babies. In a perfect scenario, horror movies are a catharsis, allowing us to get our adrenaline pumping, scream and blow off the steam of a stressful world by rooting for the heroes and, even subconsciously, feeling just a wee bit happier that we don't live in a world where the full moon is evil and brains are delicious.

Torture horror films do not do this. They make us feel worse about the world. Their message is loud and clear: you're fucked. You don't have to go into the basement when the electricity is out. You don't have to read a passage from a book bound in human skin. You don't have to have unprotected teen sex on the grave of a drowned retard in the pet cemetery next to the nuclear power plant in order for unspeakable things to happen to you. All you have to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What? Don't tell me that. That's not what I want to leave the theater thinking. That's just mean. I paid ten bucks for you to show me this? You dick!

Which brings me to INSIDE.



Written and directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, INSIDE is the most relentless example of torture horror that has ever glued my eyes open in shock and awe. In a nutshell, a woman in her last weeks of pregnancy is trapped in her home and stalked by a scissor wielding madwoman that is dead set on a decidedly unscheduled C-section. Everyone that enters the house that night - and for a place out in the boonies, it's surprisingly populated - ends up savagely and spectacularly eviscerated. Nothing is left to the imagination. Gore guh-gore gore GORE! Fast forward, crazy lady is in a rocking chair, cradling a blood soaked and possibly dead newborn, as the camera pans over mommy, torn open and spilling down the stairs like a wet, meaty piñata. Roll credits.

As a lover of film, INSIDE tears me. I want so badly to hate it and yet it's brilliantly done. It truly is. The acting, the directing, the editing - brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. INSIDE's short 84 minutes is packed - there's barely room for you to blink, so peeing or making a sandwich is out of the question. Absolutely riveting, there's no point in denying it. And yet, the story that was inside Bustillo and Maury busting to get out is about a psycho scissor sister that carves up a battered and bloodied pregnant widow like an Easter ham. Ironically, you'd have to view INSIDE in its entirety (in other words, don't rent it from Blockbuster) to appreciate the depth of depravity committed to the story here. This is neither the product of nor the fodder for healthy minds.

Nine weeks after INSIDE's US video release, a 23 year old woman in Kennewick, WA, tortured a 27 year old mother-to-be and cut her full term baby from her womb.

It's true.

I was still feeling violated from watching INSIDE so this news hit me like a lead pipe. Coincidence? Cause and effect? Life imitating art? I cannot say. But I can say that when I seek out the vicarious thrills of a horror movie, this is exactly the type of world that I'm trying to escape from.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

FLOSSING THE MOUTH OF MADNESS


Greetings gentle readers - all four of you.

My apologies for the long break. I wish I could say that it was because I was too busy or by some stretch lacking in subject matter but the sad truth is so much more basic. I am fundamentally a shiftless person that is easily distracted by anything shiny or bouncy. Every time I sit down at my computer to type, I find myself the helpless victim of ebay and porn, as surely as Ulysses found himself caught between Scylla and Charybdis. Had Charybdis been armed with hot Asian teen on teen action, I'm sure it would have ended badly for the Greeks. Myself, since May I have surfed the intertubes muselessly, badly chafed, and now the triumphant owner of rare treasures like a dead mongoose fighting for its life against two stuffed cobras.



Isn't it swell? Neither its splendor nor its innate irony were lost on me.

I have also, since we were last together, had more than a few occasions to wade throat-deep in the stuff of horror. In recent weeks I have viewed THEM (2007), PERFECT CREATURE, three solid episodes of NBC's FEAR ITSELF and one crappy one, THE CALL OF CTHULHU, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1981), VIY, SHUTTER (the original, of course), THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, EATEN ALIVE, THE OTHERS, TEETH (which will get its own blog entry soon), FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, ZOMBIE STRIPPERS, SLITHER and for the eighth time, the Zack Snyder remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. Many of these I enjoyed. A few are precious enough to be enthroned in my DVD collection. But none of them - not one - came close to instilling me with the two-fisted horror, the creeping nausea, the drooling, slack-jawed screaming that I experienced for a full hour watching the BBC America documentary, BRITAIN'S WORST TEETH.

BWT documents the efforts of three of Britain's foremost dentists as they agree to treat four twenty-some year olds, none of whom had been to a dentist since before Wes Craven last made a decent movie. The least terrifying was a young mother named Gemma, whose bulimia had eroded her smile down to a row of yellowed, nubby Chiclets that were good for little more than funneling broth and yogurt. Unpleasant? Certainly. But Gemma was just the warm up act. She was Julia Roberts compared to the others.

The show actually began with Sarah, who on casual inspection was actually quite cute in that undercooked, British sort of way. Young, slender, blonde, I let my guard down as she told the story of her sugar addiction. Daily chocolate, three cups of tea with three spoons of sugar three times a day and on and on. For a moment I wondered how she managed to be so rail thin on a diet of Pixie Sticks and Yoo-Hoo - and then she opened her mouth and that moment was gone. All my moments were gone. I forgot how to blink.

It is rare that I make an audible sound when viewing television but within that first five minutes of BWT, I screamed. And not that sort of dignified man-scream one makes when confronted by a bear or a collapsing mine shaft, either. Oh no. These were high pitched girl screams, the kind that be-pigtailed moppets reserve for spiders and strangers with candy, of such frequency and duration that every dog within two blocks was driven into a howling fit.

Blonde, slender, "pretty" Sarah's smile was a jaundiced bag of moist, broken glass. Weakened by a hardcore diet of candy that would choke Augustus Gloop, all that remained of her teeth were jagged, splintered shards, jutting out of her gums at odd intervals and angles like a rotting picket fence. I felt the blood rush from my face. How...how could this be!?! This was an otherwise clean, educated, middle class young woman of the First World! And yet, there she was in living color, with the diseased piehole of an aboriginal meth addict. I pulled my knees up to my chest and held them there until I lost feeling in my feet.

The narrator droned on about...I dunno, something. The state of dental hygiene in the UK, perhaps. I was too busy grappling for the last shreds of my sanity to be certain. I closed my eyes and Sarah's cockeyed zipper mouth was still there! So I opened my eyes - and there was Paul.



This is Paul.

The spongy, black rot on yellowing apple cores. Breath like the gas from a beached whale. You would think he flossed with a chainsaw and gargled with maple syrup, but you know he's never flossed or gargled in his life.

Paul (and his sister Genna) were dentaphobes. Traumatized by a take-no-prisoners tooth Nazi at a very young age, Paul's well-founded phobia overrode his common sense and kicked off a 15 year cavalcade of tartar and gingivitis. His entire life consisted of going to work and coming home to hide his mouth. He had to take painkillers just to chew bread.

Too much. My mouth was open and dry. Now my screams could only be heard by bats. It was as if the reality of a godless universe had tied a hobnail boot to a telephone pole and fired it out of a cannon directly at my solar plexus. I couldn't stop telling myself that this wasn't a movie! This wasn't a movie!! All my happy places had evaporated! Oh sweet jeebus - now I'm talking in italics like everyone that ever went crazy and died in a Lovecraft story!! Not good!!! NOT GOOD!!!!!

I woke up on the floor in a puddle of at least two of my own fluids. Cautiously, I pulled myself up and peered over the coffee table at the TV. Graham Norton was interviewing Kevin Bacon. The Beast had gone. Everything was going to be okay.

That was about two weeks ago and I've only flossed once since. Life's funny.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CLIVE From New York


Today, Sloan Fine Art in New York is opening an exhibit of recent works by horror renaissance man – nay, horror Zeus (kaaaaaa-BOOM!) - Clive Barker, doubtless as a highbrow tie-in to the opening of Barker’s newest story-to-film, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, next month.

If you like, please take a moment and work through all your giggling at that title before you go on.

MIDNIGHT.

MEAT.

TRAIN.

Five dollars says Barker was sporting a wry smile at the very least when he wrote that one.

The folks at Lionsgate are themselves sporting some new gray hairs because audiences have been laughing at the trailer for a film that should be, by all rights, one of the goriest and most harrowing produced this century. Vinny Jones, a modern shade of Rondo Hatton, starring as a serial killer that hunts subway riders to feed his subterranean mutant masters – what is not to love, I ask you? But come on. The trailer could show Hitler sodomizing a baby fur seal with a white-hot post-hole digger and if it ended with a deep, serious voiceover saying “MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN,” someone would still snort out a chuckle. A movie with that title should be starring Big Dick Blacque, not the guy from KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL.

Brooke Shields, though – meh, gray area.

I read Barker’s collections, THE BOOKS OF BLOOD, about two decades ago and while I only recall the story’s ending, it’s certainly possible that MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN had a veiled sexual punchline in there somewhere. Barker has never been one to shy away from the horror of sex, especially in his earlier work. Have you read THE AGE OF DESIRE? It’s basically Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde if Hyde were an enormous, raging erection. Terrifying? Oh sweet crispy deep-fried jeezus, yes. I’ve only read the TORTURED SOULS novelette since Barker came out with CABAL in 1988 so I can’t speak to works like THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW and THE THIEF OF ALWAYS, but Barker’s auteurism births horror with two earmarks; that mayhem and violation of one’s body is a primal horror that shivers us all the way down to our caveman genes; and that the only thing more horrifying than witnessing said mutilated body, helpless and bloody in a whimpering heap, would be to find it arousing.

Um, eeyew.

The exhibit at Sloan is in two piles. There’s a miscellaneous group of relatively tame, surreal images, about half of which are architectural and make me think that Barker really got a kick out of the panoramas in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. His work is very cinematic, which is either somewhat ironic or perfectly logical for a novelist that paints. In the hands of a less visionary man, images like THE LIGHTNING TREE could easily be dismissed as the stuff of van paintings. But somehow, when Barker does them, there’s life in them. You can see them in your mind’s eye as if you were viewing them on a big screen. They’re beautiful. If those talented boys at WETA were to bring THE LIGHTNING TREE or THE PALACE OF RAIN LANTERN to cinematic life, every dungeonmaster in Berkeley would die of priapism.



The other pile are Barker’s concept paintings for MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. Now we’re talkin’. The mutilated beings depicted are the result of some demonic four-way between Frankenstein’s monster, a Morlock, Jeffrey Dahmer and, of course, Pinhead. They are unclean. Barker’s style is unclean. In this context, that’s decidedly a compliment.

His brushstrokes are furious and primal, imbuing his creations with movement and savagery as if they were caged animals, trapped on a piece of paper not quite two feet square. There is little or no finesse apparent in his technique, almost as if he were trying to kill the paper by stabbing it with his paintbrush. But liked a crazed killer from one of his own stories, each stab meets the paper with purpose. Horror is not pretty.



One of my favorites of the bunch, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN 6, vibrates on a web of black lines with an expressionistic style reminiscent of Willem de Kooning’s figural studies. Have you ever seen de Kooning’s “people”? They’re just…horribly wrong. Similarly, the abattoir in MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN 7 immediately recalled Francis Bacon’s HEAD SURROUNDED BY SIDES OF BEEF for me. For my nickel, this is fine company for a painter to find himself in. In an industry where the average pre-production sketch ends up in a landfill or on ebay, the fact that Barker’s warrant wall space in a New York gallery is a testament to the man’s talent and vision. Whether a director can accurately translate that vision to the screen is irrelevant: the painting themselves are sexy, sexy nightmares.



(What? Just because I spend all my time talking about Dario Argento and George Romero, you think I don’t know from de Kooning and Bacon? Baron gots mad skillz, fanboy. Now get thee to a museum.)

The Barker exhibit is open at Sloan Fine Art through May 10. If you happen to be in New York proper, pop in and tell them Baron Von Goolo sent you. It will confuse the staff and I will find that amusing.

Monday, April 7, 2008

I Do Take Requests

Anonymous April 6 5:20 PM asks:
What I would love would be a list of your Favorite Horror Films of the 21st Century (Thus Far). I'm curious to know which films you make the cut, and which don't.

Let it never be said that I am not a man of the people.

At first, this request gave me a good chortle. Do I even have any favorites released in this century? I am, you see, a hateful curmudgeon with a vocal, hair-trigger disdain for much of the offal that Hollywood thinks we’re indiscriminate enough to cough nine bucks for. And in all fairness to myself, much of that offal is, well, truly awful.

Not that my heightened awareness of the genre impresses many. If any. God as my witness, I once had a “debate” with a young lady that threw up her arms in frustration when she was unable to convince me that the remake of THIRTEEN GHOSTS (2001) was a superior horror film to William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST. Because “the effects were totally way better.” Totally way, mind you.

That was in 2003. My desire to pry out her larynx with a claw hammer has lost none of its original luster.

But as I researched, I soon realized that my cynicism here is misplaced and that this young century has indeed squirted out some fine horror. Damn fine. In some cases, fodder for classicism. Here’s a rundown of my favorites by year.

2001 – AUDITION
Honorable Mention – THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, JEEPERS CREEPERS
Worst – THIRTEEN GHOSTS



2002 –28 DAYS LATER
Honorable Mention – MAY, BELOW, THE RING
Worst - FEARDOTCOM

2003 – CABIN FEVER
Honorable Mention – HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, FREDDY VS. JASON
Worst – WRONG TURN

2004 – SHAUN OF THE DEAD
Honorable Mention – Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, CREEP, SAW, SEED OF CHUCKY
Worst - DARKNESS

2005 –THE DEVIL’S REJECTS
Honorable Mention – THE DESCENT, WOLF CREEK, FEAST
Worst – DOOM, ALONE IN THE DARK., HIGH TENSION, THE FOG remake, THE CAVE, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR remake…sweet buttery baby jeebus, what a torrential turdfest ’05 was!



2006 – tie: SLITHER, HARD CANDY
Honorable Mention – ALTERED
Worst – DARK RIDE

2007 – 28 WEEKS LATER
Honorable Mention – SWEENEY TODD, THE MIST, BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON, THE ORPHANAGE, FIDO, DEAD SILENCE
Worst – HOSTEL II

I want to be clear. These are my favorites. Some, like DEAD SILENCE, are guilty pleasures, but all are films I recommend the most often, enjoy the most, watch repeatedly and/or rewarded by dropping some coin to own the DVD. They may or may not be the best. HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, for example, is a fairly awful film – but the characters are amazing, the production design is fantastic, and it leads in to my favorite movie of 2005. AUDITION and 28 DAYS LATER, on the other hand, both made me lose hold of my fluids at least once and might be among the scariest films of all time. Don’t bother requesting that list. It’s coming.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

DEEP RED VINES

Unless you’ve been too busy raising barns and churning butter or whatnot, you’ve been subjected to the relentless advertising blitzkrieg for THE RUINS, which opens wide tomorrow (April 4). The commercials have been cagey. Is THE RUINS about ghosts? Zombies? Plague? A zombie ghost plague, mebbeh? No, my friends, nothing so pedestrian. THE RUINS is the 21st century’s first man-eating plant movie.

Gay, you say? Fiddlesticks, says I! This tickles me pink.



THE RUINS is based on the best selling novel by Scott Smith (A SIMPLE PLAN) that was released late in 2006. When a friend broke this unrelentingly gory tale down for me, I immediately commented that it was a movie waiting to happen. As fate would have it, it had already been bought by Ben Stiller’s production company – which to me is almost, but not quite, as weird as Mel Brooks producing the remake of THE FLY (1986). Comedians doing horror – who knew? Of course, Brooks tapped David Cronenberg to helm his project, while Stiller gave THE RUINS to a guy that’s done some Tommy Hilfiger commercials. Smooth, Ben. I’ve got three words for your prowess as a producer: STARSKY & HUTCH.

The commercials have purposefully obscured the botanical menace, the studios assuming that these days they need to trick audiences into seeing any horror movie that isn’t a remake of a Japanese one. Long, exasperated sigh. That’s exactly the mistake Hollywood Pictures made with PRIMEVAL (2007), a passable giant crocodile movie that was advertised as if it were the Burundi Chainsaw Massacre. Despite this sort of fumbling parentage that is almost always a smokescreen for a slack-jawed, flipper-fisted banjo boy of a film, I’m excited to see THE RUINS. Why? Because man-eating plants and other samples of mean greenery are one of the most under-harvested monster genres of all time - and in these days of This of The Living Dead and That of The Living Dead, some monstrous mulch is exactly the kind of fresh move that renews my faith in the Hollywood machine. I love violent vegetation, with its long and varied pedigree in cinema; some of which ranks among my favorite ways to kill two popcorn infused hours. Who could ever forget what that possessed tree did to that little boy in POLTERGEIST? Or what that other ever-so-randy possessed tree did to Ash’s girlfriend in EVIL DEAD? You can’t shoot them in the head or stake them through the heart, so unless you’re sporting a backpack full of RoundUp these roots of all evil can prove especially menacing. Here are a few of my faves.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Seventy years old and still one of the greatest movies of all time – but an evil plant movie? Oh hell yeah. If you don’t think those thuggish apple trees were the catalyst for decades of wet beds then you just aren’t paying attention.



THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951):
The guy from GUNSMOKE plays a murderous space carrot.

What? That’s not enough for you?



FROM HELL IT CAME (1957):
Most unsettled souls come back as ghosts or zombies, but in this utter turdfest the spirit of vengeance is the Tabanga, a murderous stump that grows from the grave of a slain native prince. Goofy and unwieldy, Tabanga is a guilty pleasure for those of you clever enough to provide your own MST3K dialogue.



INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956, 1978, but not 2007)
Required viewing for the culturally literate, this classic sci-fi tale of paranoia put phrases like “pod people” into the common vernacular. Even the 1978 remake, which is heavy on the Invasion’s vegetative origins, is solid, spooky and memorable – especially when the pod people start shrieking. The end of that movie is as bleek as it is awesome.



DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962, and a 1981 BBC mini-series)
What’s worse than waking up and finding the entire planet overrun by man-eating sunflowers? Well, probably waking up and discovering you’re blind, too. No fair! TRIFFIDS is classic, must-see sci-fi that’s been on the big screen remake block several times: every time preproduction is scrapped, I die a little inside.



MATANGO aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963)
Those Asians – they’ll make a horror movie about anything! Wigs, videocassettes, dim sum – they don’t care. But mushrooms? When I was nine this movie gave me nightmares for a month. Now, the bizarre ghost laughter that echoes through the mist-covered mushroom forest is still enough to give me a hospital-grade case of the heebie-jeebies.



ISLAND OF THE DOOMED aka THE MANEATER OF HYDRA (1967):
A seldom seen French fright flick starring Cameron Mitchell as a mad doctor that’s grown a magnolia tree with a taste for blood. The suspense is not palpable enough to justify saving the monster for the end of the film, but it’s weird enough to get a thumb up from me.



THE FREAKMAKER aka THE MUTATIONS (1974)
This is pure ‘grindhouse meets greenhouse’ as Dr. Loomis turns Dr. Who into a half-man, half-Venus flytrap in this British bit of weirdness. You really have to give it to them for thinking outside the box on this one.



LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986)
Lovingly wrapped as a musical comedy, LSOH is a tale of murder, sadism, greed and alien invasion set to a bouncy 50’s beat. I positively gush at this film. Gush, I say!! Arguably the king of the plant monsters, the sinister and insatiable Audrey II ranks right up there with Gollum and Freddy Kreuger as a true scene-stealer. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one of the original, recalled DVDs, you can see the rough cut of the alternate ending, where Audrey II kills Seymour and Audrey and then rampages through New York, Kong style. Thanks for denying us a better ending, David Geffen and your spineless focus group! You are cordially invited to kiss my daisy-white ass.



GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989)
What do you get when a mad scientist crosses a rose bush and some Godzilla cells in order to resurrect his dead daughter? A lot of confused round eyes, for one. I mean seriously, I wouldn’t think there was enough sake in the world to come up with that shit. Still, with his acid spitting crocodile head and his toothy tentacles, Biollante is one of the coolest looking monsters to ever get his ass kicked by Godzilla.



(You might note that Audrey II, the Triffids, the Body Snatchers and the Thing (as well as the monsters from INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, the hilarious THE GREEN SLIME and numerous episodes of THE OUTER LIMITS and DOCTOR WHO) are all outer space monsters. Even Biollante drifted off into space at the end of its movie. Evil plants and outer space seem to go together like schoolgirls and duct tape. I have no conclusion about that. I just found it an odd coincidence.)

So there you have it – a cinematic salad bar of sociopathic shrubbery! What better way to celebrate Arbor Day than to pop a couple of these into the ol’ DVD player?

Besides planting a tree I mean.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Me & Ashley Alexandra Dupre



Actually, I've never met her. I just wanted more traffic for my blog. Thanks Google!

Monday, March 10, 2008

OUR HORRIBLE WORLD: Nom on Mom

Horror isn’t just for movies, you know. Why, just look around you! The world is chock full of rank, vomitous and otherwise mind-numbing phenomena! That’s why from time to time I’m going to take a break from the make believe horrors of art and screen and introduce you to some of the true-to-life terror from…OUR HORRIBLE WORLD!

Motherhood! The cornerstone of any balanced breakfast. At least it is for this slimy brood of caecilians (suh-SILL-yunz). Precious!



Are they worms? Are they snakes? You’d be wrong on both counts, Mark Trail. Caecilians are amphibians, which makes them more closely related to newts and toads. And they live underground in the tropics, so they’re rarely seen and hardly studied. But the fine, fine crew of the BBC One series LIFE IN COLD BLOOD were able to film a mama caecilian with her hungry brood and document a truly nauseating wonder of nature.

Baby caecilians are born with a series of tiny hook teeth in their mouths. For a long time no one knew why. Now it turns out that they’re specialized for eating their own mother! But it gets even more horrible, because the babies need to eat about once every three days and mama caecilian has evolved to re-grow a fatty, nutrient-rich new layer of skin in that amount of time so that her babies can eat her again.

And again.

And again.

And as fast as the savage, hook toothed rugrats can feast, mama just keeps growing her fatty flesh back as fast as she loses it. Just like Oprah.

So remember, the next time your nipples are chafing after a rigorous breastfeeding, turn that frown upside down and count your lucky stars that your little gobbler isn't gnawing the whole thing off! Because it’s the lowly caecilian that really pulled the childcare short straw in…OUR HORRIBLE WORLD!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Buffdiver

Hi everybody. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lesbian now.

And she didn't even join Team Pink with Willow. That's kinda cold.

Looking Forward to DOOMSDAY

Last Friday, Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC opened on what I’m sure is an ungodly number of screens. Without reading a single review, I’m confident that this film will be another $100,000,000.00+ nail in the coffin of this writer/director’s checkered career of big budget hackery. The commercials for your little caveman movie want the world to remember you as the director of INDEPENDENCE DAY, Emmerich, but to me – oh-ho-ho – to me you will always be the cultural blight that shat out the American bastardization of GODZILLA. My contempt for your “art” is a seeping wound that never heals, a scab I will pick until worms feast on my bowels. Or on Matthew Broderick’s, whichever comes first.

The good news for you faithful fans of fearsome frolics is that you only have to hold your nose at the box office for a few more days until Neil Marshall’s DOOMSDAY opens this Friday. As confidently as I’ve assumed that 10,000 BC will suck a cueball through a key hole, I know in my coal black heart that DOOMSDAY will kick 31 flavors of ass. Because Neil Marshall is a god. Emmerich doesn’t deserve to have his last name spelled from the same alphabet as Neil Marshall.

Now please, prepare yourselves. I’m tabling my trademark cynicism in order to gush.

Marshall has only been on the big screen twice, both times for films that he wrote as well as directed, and both times he popped it deep into the cheap seats. Granted, two films isn’t nearly as impressive as, say, John Carpenter’s run from DARK STAR in 1974 to IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS in 1995 but compared to other horror directors that have started their careers in this century, Marshall is at the front of the pack. If not leading it.

To wit, for your werewolf dollar, Marshall’s DOG SOLDIERS (2002) is rock solid. Shot for less than THE PHANTOM MENACE’s donut budget, DOG SOLDIERS follows a squad of British Army soldiers through the Scottish Highlands as they search for a lost special ops squad whose special op, as it turns out, was to catch a werewolf. Things do not go as planned and hi-jinx ensue. The soldiers end up holed up in a shack in the middle of nowhere, with very few options and very many werewolves scratching at the doors. Great story, confident direction, and a solid cast spinning characters that you’d prefer that the monsters not kill for a change. And unlike other recent films like Wes Craven’s big budget werewolf suckfest, CURSED (2005), the werewolves in DOG SOLDIERS aren’t CGI. Their realism comes from the simple fact that they’re there. Way too often, Hollywood seems to forget how real real monsters can seem. (If any Hollywoodsmen are actually reading this, please feel free to file that bit of advice away for future reference. Put it under D for “duh.”)



In 2005, Marshall followed up with THE DESCENT. This happy little girl-power jaunt reminds me of an episode of SEX IN THE CITY; if by IN THE CITY you mean IN AN UNCHARTED CAVERN and if by SEX you mean BEING EATEN BY A RAVENOUS HORDE OF SLIMY, MUTANT BAT PEOPLE. Lord knows I mix those up often enough. With the possible exception of the ham-fisted metaphor of the main character, Sarah, being reborn as an ass-kicking Amazon out of a pool of clotted blood, we’re looking at another brilliantly crafted script with believable, likeable characters and REAL monsters. Rent the unrated DVD and watch it with the original, European ending that the American studios pussed out on.



Marshall has found a formula that works and he’s sticking with it. Take a group of people related in some way (a unit of soldiers/spelunking Spice Girls), strand them away from the comforts of civilization (in a shack/cavern), threaten them with a horrible demise that defies a comfortable explanation (being eaten by werewolves/ Bat Boy), and make a film not about the monsters but about how well the people facing those monsters cope.

Now, since my dairy-white ass isn’t nearly famous enough to rate a screener copy of DOOMSDAY I only have trailers to go on but it’s a fair bet we’re looking at another heapin’ helpin’ of that ol’ Marshall magic. This time, his group of related people is an entire populace infected with some sort of horrible plague that threatens to wipe out mankind. The seclusion are the walls built around said sick people by the rest of the world and the horrible demise is the almost certain, agonizing death that thousands of otherwise innocent human beings will suffer because their fellow man found it most expedient to turn their backs on them. The catch? Some of the sick people get better and get really pissed. They cobble together a bitter, post-punk society a la THE ROAD WARRIOR, united by the perfectly reasonable assumption that anyone on the healthy side of the wall is a right fuck what deserves to be eaten. So of course, now the incongruously hot Rhona Mitra has to venture into this predictably hostile 28 DAYS LATER meets LORD OF THE FLIES meets ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK scenario in order to do…something. Find a cure or some genetic Messiah or Oprah’s car keys, hell, I dunno. More importantly, I don’t care. Marshall is about to hit 3 for 3 and my local Cinemark is about to get another nine of my hard-earned dollars. Maybe even thirteen if I kowtow to their usurious snack pricing and get Red Vines.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Belated Valentine's




I had a sex dream about Rachel Ray. If there had been actual penetration in the dream I believe I would be too busy thumping my head on the floor in a widening pool of my own drool to be able to write this so evidently, my subconscious is capable of some small mercies. It was one of those dreams where certain knowledge and events are taken for granted and in this case, while Rachel was busy violating my kitchen to make us breakfast and throwing me knowing, over the shoulder glances with that unearthly, deep-sea giant clam grin of hers, I somehow knew that I had just finished banging her like a retard bangs a spirit drum at camp. Thankfully, my involuntary shudder woke me.

I blame this dream squarely on the squadrons of stomach viruses that had so recently had their way with my delicate, pasty body, as well as on the random association of Ray’s leering Jolly Roger mug staring back at me every time I’ve picked up a box of Triscuits over the last eight months. Which is often. I may be evil but that does not mean I get enough fiber.

I also blame those viruses for throwing me off my game and delaying this, a blog with a dash of romance that I had originally intended for Valentine’s Day. Horror makes for a surprisingly solid backdrop for romance and depending on the gore threshold of your paramour, also makes for a charming evening at home with a nice wine and perhaps a bowl of popcorn (with or without a hole cut in the bottom). While there’s plenty to be said about the sexiness of vampires or (if you’re Asian) the novel kink of a demon in chains and leather, for my nickel you can’t beat the romzomcom: the romantic zombie comedy.

When done correctly, the romzomcom is a perfect date movie. Moments of unyielding, brain-munching terror are in harmony with schmoopie love-conquers-all optimism, both with enough potency to simultaneously satisfy your inner George Romero as well as your inner Nora Ephron. The undisputed king of the romzomcoms is SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Shaun himself, Simon Pegg. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is, quite possibly, a perfect film. Hilarious, well paced, brilliantly directed, inventively edited, perfectly timed, and drenched in gore when it suits the story. For my ticket money, SHAUN is the greatest zombie movie ever made as well as being in my Top 10 for comedy and the only romantic comedy I can sit through without needing an insulin shot afterwards. I will not bore you with a recap because you have either seen this slice of fried gold already or you need to. Immediately.



According to many sources, SHAUN is the only romzomcom. That’s because many sources are fat and lazy and don’t love you like I do. SHAUN’s p.r. machine was indeed clever enough to coin the phrase but for all their genius, Wright & Company did not invent the subgenre. In fact, I can recall five other romzomcoms without even doing any research.

Twelve years before SHAUN, Peter Jackson (yes, the hobbitty one) released DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD), which may be the first actual romzomcom. The action centers around Lionel, a likeable and unlikely hero, who is cursed by a clutching, domineering mother long before Mother is cursed with a nasty case of feral undeath. Even when her priorities switch to eating her bridge club and the mailman, she still has enough time to interfere with Lionel’s budding romance with the local shopgirl, Paquita. And by “interfere” I mean “try to eat Paquita.”



While DEAD ALIVE’s reputation as one of the bloodiest and goriest movies ever committed to film tends to overshadow all else, it does not change the fact that this movie is full to bursting with romance, zombies and comedy. Ergo, romzomcom. Like SHAUN, I also consider DEAD ALIVE to be required viewing and until you have seen it, the most you can aspire to is my contempt.

MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK (1993) is a flawed but likeable teen romzomcom where teen A, Johnny, is in love with teen B, Missy. Blah blah blah, Missy promises Johnny a date, Johnny dies, but Johnny also decides he wants to go on the date more than he wants to go into the light. The fact that he rots faster if he doesn’t eat people is a bit of a sticking point, as eating people is oft to be. My favorite thing about BOYFRIEND has nothing to do with the acting or the story: BOYFRIEND was produced by Touchstone and distributed by Buena Vista. That means that Mickey Mouse made a zombie movie. The delicious irony rolls over me like warm honey down my pants.

My second favorite thing is that BOYFRIEND has an eyebrow-raising cast of stars-to-be, including a barely shaving Philip Seymour Hoffman as a thuggish jock, and Matthew Fox, Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey all in their big screen debuts. McConaughey plays Guy #2. I love that. Then in 1994, he and Zellweger worked together again in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION. And in 1995 it's a fair bet they both got new agents.

Along the lines of BOYFRIEND, an Irish production company called Element Films trotted out BOY EATS GIRL (2005), another teen romzomcom with a conveniently self-explanatory title. I have not seen BOY yet and since it is 31 in my Netflix queue I probably won’t until summer. If any of you kids out there in the Intertubes want to comment on it, please do.

Back to 1993. Not all love is romantic, you know, and not all mothers are as hateful and domineering as Lionel’s Mombie-bitch-goddess in DEAD ALIVE. In ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER, Steve Buscemi has so much difficulty saying goodbye to his beloved mum, played to perfection by the sweetly battrachian Miriam Margolyes, that he jumps at the chance to bring her back when a shadowy company called Happy People Inc. offers him the means. Hi-jinx ensue. 1993 must have been a much simpler time because no one knew what to do with ED (or BOYFRIEND or DEAD ALIVE for that matter) and the early romzomcoms were largely box office flops that were lost to the cult sections of quirky, independent video stores.

Though not technically a romzomcom since the main monster is a demonically possessed severed hand, IDLE HANDS (1999) gets an honorable mention. There are indeed zombies (including ROBOT CHICKEN’s Seth Green), there is a love affair threatened by supernatural forces, there is much humorous mayhem, and an 18 year old Jessica Alba spends most of her screen time in various states of undress. The movie’s tagline is “A Touching Story About A Boy And His Right Hand.” I have nothing to add that’s funnier than that.



Most recently (in 2006), FIDO became the newest romzomcom on the block. Set in a dystopian 50’s-ish utopia a la EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, the Zombie Wars have been hard-fought and won with the help of Dr. Reinhold Geiger and the technlogical wizardry of Zomcon! Legions of the morbidly mobile are outfitted with behavior collars that turn them into the perfect servants. But of course, the collars stop working and hi-jinx ensue. FIDO centers around the Robinson family as they get their first house-zombie, played 100% vocabulary-free by comedian Billy Connelly. The love affair that blossoms between Fido and Mrs. Robinson (played to Betty Crockerish perfection by Carrie Ann Moss) is as predictable and heartwarming as it is unsettling. While not nearly on par with SHAUN, I appreciate FIDO for not being the same formulaic drivel we’ve all seen a million times before and for that alone it gets a big gold star from me.

ADDENDUM

This blog wasn't even two hours old when Chris Herndon - the artist and co-creator of the cult classic comic series, LIVING WITH ZOMBIES (not to be confused with Dark Horse Comics' recent, shamelessly plagiarized and significantly less funny LIVING WITH THE DEAD) - pointed out to me that I neglected to mention the Italian romzomcom, CEMETERY MAN (1996). Admittedly the definition of romance is a little strained (especially the one between the retarded gravedigger and the severed head) and the comedy is blacker than the cast of BARBERSHOP, but CM rightfully belongs on this list. Thank you, Christopher. I owe you a cookie.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

FURNACE: Lukewarm At Best.


Greetings to all eighteen of my loyal fans!

Please accept my most grovelly apologies for my extended absence over the last two weeks. I’m afraid that even my dark powers are no match for flu season, which ran roughshod through the steamy bunkhouses of Camp Von Goolo, pimp-slapped me dizzy and made me its dry heaving bitch. At least I got a good ab workout in. But sadly, between having long, intimate conversations with my plastic bucket and being so light-headed that I kept asking if Obama had pulled ahead of Coolidge, I was falling shy of the lucidity threshold that I like to hit before I post.

The good news is that now that I’m rested and ready for my next review. Plus, my bucket is still nearby – which is always good to have on hand when you’re watching a William Butler movie.



HA! I kid, I kid. How can you not love the guy that had the thunderous, elephantine sack to pitch THE GINGERDEAD MAN and actually get that sucker made? And really, FURNACE (or as it was released in the UK, TOM SIZEMORE MUST HAVE A HOUSE PAYMENT) isn’t all that bad. It’s just not good. Try as I might, I couldn’t get stoked over FURNACE.

And I promise, that’s the last FURNACE pun I’m going to make.

The story revolves around Detective Mike Turner, played by the cartoonishly rugged Michael Paré, as he investigates an increasing number of grisly suicides at the cartoonishly gothic Blackgate Prison. Cartoonishly sadistic prison guard Frank Miller (the aforementioned Sizemore) leads an inmate work detail in renovating an abandoned wing of Blackgate where, decades earlier, the Warden tried to dispose of the body of his young daughter in (wait for it...wait for iiiiiiiit…) the furnace after a friendly round of Daddy’s Super Secret FunTime Touching Game went wrong. Wronger. Of course, snugglemuffin isn’t quite dead when the Warden tosses her in and the flaming, screaming child somehow manages to reach out of the furnace and pull her 170 pound father into the furnace with her. Fifty years later, hi-jinx ensue. The titular furnace relights itself and the two ghosts with the most toast start their body-count. From what I was able to glean, for no reason at all.

Better films have had flimsier plots but FURNACE never produces the smokescreen to hide its shortcomings. The direction is freshman at best and the cinematography is flatter than Bai Ling. But where FURNACE really confounds is in the bipolar casting. On the one hand you have hippity hop star Ja Rule (who puts in a surprisingly believable performance for all of the eight minutes he’s on screen), Danny Trejo (who I’d watch even if he was just buying stamps) and Tom Sizemore (who, from what I can tell, is a legitimate actor and easily delivers the movie’s best, too-short scene as he goes on a mad killing spree during a riot). This B-movie trifecta makes for a surprisingly solid cast for a film this modest. Then on the other hand you have the impossibly chiseled wooden Paré, the impossibly hot chick in lingerie impossibly married to a doughy, neckless prison guard, the impossibly cute and horny female medical examiner that hits on Paré whenever there’s a dead body around, and the impossibly milfy prison psychiatrist whose prescription for Paré’s deep-seated depression over the savage murder of his family is to hump his frown upside down. It’s as if the real casting director died after hiring Sizemore and the only replacement they could find had worked exclusively on BIKINI CARWASH sequels.

FURNACE is not a film that stands up to much scrutiny. Like, why does the DVD case say “UNRATED” when there are no naughty bits (Dr. Milfy even wears her bra during the sex scenes) and half the gore is in the Alternate Scenes? And if the little girl ghost has third degree burns over her entire body, how come she still has all her hair? FURNACE is the sort of telegraphed, unchallenging fare that will play well, virtually unedited, when it starts running in heavy rotation on the SciFi Channel. They can sandwich it between GARGOYLE: WINGS OF DARKNESS and KOMODO VS. COBRA and have themselves a little Michael Paré film festival.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Retread Fred



Last week, Yahoo News (and Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and blar dee blar blar) announced that New Line Cinema is intending to “re-launch” the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise for a new generation of moviegoers. Not surprisingly, they’re in cahoots with horror production company Platinum Dunes, the people responsible for the remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE HITCHER, and the upcoming FRIDAY THE 13TH and NEAR DARK “re-imaginings” – AND who lack enough shame to remake THE BIRDS for Universal. Platinum Dunes truly puts the whore in horror.

And now they’re coming for my beloved ELM STREET, easily one of the greatest horror movies of all time. As. It. Is. But just like TCM and just like Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN, no amount of respect for the classics will stop the box office juggernaut from romper-stomping the last ounce of vitality out of a cherished franchise like a kitten in a mosh pit. The only encouraging detail about the new ELM STREET is that due to the Writers Guild strike, no script has been started. (And all this while I thought that the only good the strike was doing was keeping PRIVATE PRACTICE off the air. Hang tough, people.)

It’s a vain hope but maybe, just maybe, if we all eat our vegetables and believe in fairies really, really hard, someone attached to the new ELM STREET will google this blog between idle bouts of Warcraft and hot Asian teens and heed the following advice.

First, lest we forget, Robert Englund is still very much alive. There is no reason except your own misguided ego to go casting Justin Timber Von Van der Biek or some other flavor of the week to stumble in the footsteps of a living legend. Englund and Wes Craven created nothing less than one of the most original and enduring villains in screen history. Anyone else stepping into that role will find themselves at the mercy of a ravaging, carnivorous locust-plague of critics and fanboys. And I will be there on the sidewalk, handing them little cups of water to keep them hydrated while they run you down. Hell, a lot of us are pissed that Andrew Divoff stopped doing the WISHMASTER sequels: how incensed would this make us then? Englund is so indelibly Freddy that you can see the character surface in just about everything else he’s ever acted in. Get him a personal trainer and a fresh director to slap some of the ham out of him and don’t fix what ain’t broke. (And Mr. Englund, If you're reading this, I'm sorry to imply you're hammy. But we can't take a chance that any of 2,001 MANIACS is still stuck to you.)

The second and most important piece of advice is for your story.

We all know where you’re going with this. You’re going to tell us Freddy’s back-story. And that’s okay: we know you’re an uninspired faux prequel trumped up to sell popcorn and that’s what uninspired faux prequels do. Just make sure that as the story develops that Freddy Kreuger is evil. I don’t mean mean. I don’t mean that he’s lashing out at a society that didn’t hug him enough. I mean the kind of evil that you have to hiss to pronounce correctly. Remember, this is the kid that resulted from a gang rape in an insane asylum. How much more do you need? Freddy did not become a monster. He always was one.

This means:
No flashbacks to abusive parents, step, foster or otherwise.
No stripper/prostitute/tweaker mom with a heart of gold.
No bullies scarier than he was.
No cheerleader that turns him down for prom.
No naively optimistic psychologists.
No long lost sibling or pal from the orphanage or kindly janitor that represents his last shred of humanity.
No pets.

I will, however, allow a priest or other spiritual figure that wastes his/her life failing to convince the authorities of Freddy’s sociopathy. But only if you have to.

Kreuger’s soul is so tar-black that when the neighborhood PTA lynched his ass, he got fast-tracked past the Burning Lake and promoted to a demon that could kill Johnny Depp in his sleep. He didn't die and go to Hell - Hell recruited this muggafugga, that’s how freakin’ evil he is. Please have enough respect for us and for 2 out of the 8 Freddy films that you won’t dumb his evil down to a misunderstood childhood.

Now, everyone at home, repeat after me: I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Thumb to THE EYE: Some Real Scream Queens


Since there’s nothing good on TV these days it’s possible that you’ve missed the media barrage for Jessica Alba’s new movie, THE EYE. Which, in fact, is not a new movie at all but the next in the soul-raping parade of American remakes of successful (RINGU) and semi-successful (DARK WATER) Asian horror films.

My enthusiasm for THE EYE is checked. To start, if I wanted an American bastardization of Asian goodness, I’d go to Panda Express. To finish, I’m recoiling at the suggestion by the movie’s P.R. machine that Miss Alba is a “scream queen” just because she’s been in a horror movie.

Okay, two. And in all fairness, I really liked IDLE HANDS. But still. My point is that “scream queen” isn’t just a throw away label you get from being menaced by a monster or doused in blood once or twice in your career. Sweet buttery jeezus, no! “Scream Queen” is a standard that’s borne proudly by women who have made a mark on, perhaps even devoted their lives to, a genre that “serious” actresses poo poo. Jessica Alba? My Aunt Fanny. Alba wouldn’t even make it into my top 13.

Nice segue, huh?

BARON VON GOOLO’S TOP 13 SCREAM QUEENS OF ALL TIME
(and by “all time” I mean the ones occurring to me right now)

13. Cerina Vincent

WHAT’S SHE DONE: SASQUATCH MOUTAIN, IT WAITS, RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, INTERMEDIO
BEST SCENE: the CABIN FEVER tub scene. Never has fast-onset leprosy been so dang segg-say!
One of the ScFi Channel’s go-to girls, Cerina has exactly what it takes to be a true scream queen: undeniable on-screen sexuality and the inability to judge the quality of a script. HOTCHA!!!

12. Aimee Brooks

FILMS: THE MANGLER REBORN. CRITTERS III, SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE
BEST SCENE: seducing the dork in MONSTER MAN. I would pay American money to eat pancakes off that midriff.
Aimee’s a soap opera star that shies away from the horror spotlight. Not that you can blame her – careerwise, having THE MANGLER REBORN on your IMDB page is like taking your little brother with Tourette’s to your Senate confirmation hearing. But this statuesque blond pulls screams as either the doe-eyed victim or the cat-eyed predator so with any luck, she’ll be treating us to more horror soon.

11. Julie Strain

FILMS: Too many to list but among them VAMPIRE CHILD (which she also wrote, directed and produced), THE UNNAMABLE II, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (HBO)
BEST SCENE: any scene with Julie Strain in it (homina homina homina).
Not only is Julie a verifiable scream queen but she is often referred to as “Queen of the Bs” with over 100 schlock films to her credit. 1993 Penthouse Pet of the Year and married to HEAVY METAL editor-in-chief and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle creator, Kevin Eastman, the savvy 6’1” she-devil in a D-cup has parlayed her two-fisted sexuality into softcore cult stardom. Fear the coochie of Julie Strain, mortals!!!

I know I do.

10. Brinke Stevens

FILMS: Again, too many to list; SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA, SLAVE GIRLS FROM BEYOND INFINITY, DEAD CLOWNS
BEST SCENE: before transforming into the stripperiffic “queen of Hell” in TEENAGE EXORCIST, Brinke tries to make us buy her as a homely wallflower. Puh-LEEZE!
With a resume that’s even longer than Julie Strain’s, Brinke has been pitching tents for horror fans for over three decades in films that are so obscure even I haven’t seen most of them. One of her more recent films, VAMPIRES VS. ZOMBIES, is in my Netflix queue right now. Because at 53, Brinke is still hotter than a waffle iron. And because it’s got VAMPIRES VS. ZOMBIES in it. I mean, seriously, come on.

9. Linnea Quigley

FILMS: jillions, but unlike Julie and Brinke I’ve actually seen a lot of hers, like PUMPKINHEAD II, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS.
BEST SCENE: as Trash the zombie in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
With her perennial 80’s kick ass vibe, Linnea will always be the Leather Tuscadero of horror to me. Zombie vagina trivia: Linnea was forced to wear an experimental “Barbie doll” prosthetic over her dirty lady bits in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD when the producers decided that she couldn’t go full frontal AND eat a guy’s brains out in the same shot. Pussies.

8. Asia Argento

FILMS: TRAUMA, DEMONS II & III, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998)
BEST SCENE: her zombie cage match in Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD
Sadly, most American men know Asia Argento better for her role in XXX than they do for her role as Dario Argento’s daughter. Despite this lineage, Asia is a scream queen by coincidence rather than design. “Sometimes I think my father gave me life because he needed a lead actress for his films.” Lucky for us “bitter” doesn’t disqualify her.

7. Sarah Michelle Gellar

FILMS: I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, THE GRUDGE, THE RETURN, SCREAM 2
BEST SCENE: Buffy’s mute handjob joke from HUSH, a Season 4 episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
I know that a lot of true horror fans consider BUFFY to be sacrilege but the simple fact is in seven seasons, Sarah saw more monsters, gore and mayhem than most other scream queens combined. Plus, she’s cuter than a bunny made of kittens. That’s probably why all the vampires that she didn’t kill ended up having sex with her.


6. Barbara Steele

FILMS: THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE CASTLE OF TERROR, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE, SHIVERS, PIRANHA,
BEST SCENE: her not-so-relaxing facial in BLACK SUNDAY
Known for her crazy eyes and dubbed voice, Barbara Steele has been directed by Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, David Cronenberg, Roger Corman and Joe Dante, and has starred alongside Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, giving her the most impressive horror Rolodex of any scream queen I can think of.

5. Tiffany Shepis

FILMS: ABOMINABLE, TOXIC AVENGER IV, DORM OF THE DEAD
BEST SCENE: the finale of NIGHTMARE MAN. Which would have been good even if she’d had a shirt on. But she didn’t. So it was better.
With just over 10 years in the biz, Tiffany has already racked up over 50 films on her resume and has already made the jump from scream princess to producer with her upcoming BONNIE & CLYDE VS DRACULA, where “B-movie” stands for blood, bullets and boobies. Tiffany cracks my Top 5 because she’s hotter than an iPod at a swap meet, can actually act, and answers the phone when I call. Zero degrees of separation, slutpigs! Eat that!

4. Sheri Moon Zombie

FILMS: THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, TOOLBOX MURDERS (2003), HALLOWEEN (2007), GRINDHOUSE
BEST SCENE: her song and dance in HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES.
Not that a gorgeous, rock n’ roll blond can’t make it in on her own in Hollywood, but being married to someone as iconic as Rob Zombie ain’t so bad. They’re like the Neil Simon and Marsha Mason of horror. Except that I’ve never had the slightest desire to sniff Marsha Mason’s sock drawer.


3. Jamie Lee Curtis

FILMS: HALLOWEEN I, II & III, TERROR TRAIN, PROM NIGHT, THE FOG (the good one)
BEST SCENE: horror, schmorror - her strip tease in TRUE LIES.
Jamie Lee Curtis was in the original HALLOWEEN. That is all you need to know.
P.S. She does not have a penis.


2. Ashley Laurence

FILMS, HELLRAISER I, II & VI, THE LURKING FEAR, WARLOCK III
BEST SCENE: playing with her box and unleashing the dangling sausage monster in HELLRAISER. No subtext there, Clive. Jeezus.
A few years ago, Ashley did a Geico commercial. Immediately, I imagined the gecko getting his soul torn out by a bunch of leather demon daddies. That’s how engrained the character Kirsty Cotton is in my psyche. Plus, hot. Tire fire hot. Ashley Laurence is on my magical list of celebrities that one’s spouse is supposed to give you a pass to snog on should the opportunity present itself. This is why I bring a bottle of tequila with me to horror conventions.

1. Ingrid Pitt

FILMS: THE WICKER MAN, COUNTESS DRACULA, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, THE TELL-TALE HEART (2008)
BEST SCENE: coming out of the closet (coffin, whatever) to Jon Pertwee in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD
Ingrid Pitt’s career spans almost half a century, making her the undisputed Grand Damme of Scream Queens. Making her (tooth)mark on the Hammer horror films of the 60’s and 70’s, Ingrid proved herself on par with the likes of horror archetypes Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and in the case of COUNTESS DRACULA, proved herself to be even more of a thorn in the side to the Hammer censors. And she did it all without silicon or saline. Inconceivable.