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?

(and by “all time” I mean the ones occurring to me right now)

13. Cerina Vincent

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

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

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.
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Zombie Names

Top 10 Most Politically Correct Terms for Zombies

The Formerly Abled

Unearthed American

Person of Horror *

The Life Challenged


The Post-Interred

The Differently Active

Previous Citizen

The Morbidly Gifted

The Fundead

Top 10 Least Politically Correct Terms for Zombies

Barbara (female) or Johnny (male)

Mister Stinky

Coffin Jockey

Li’l Chompy



Worm Taxi

Jesus 1.0



* Credit for this gem goes to my friends at LIVE WIRE!, who are painfully clever.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Regarding Ellen Page

As you read my posts over time, those among you observant enough to care will take note that I am a practiced hypocrite. My values and standards, passions and grudges ebb and flow in response to what I think is cool or funny at any given moment - and I do this wantonly and unashamedly, knowing full well that since nothing I say stops global warming or cures cancer, it doesn't matter. Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Emerson said that, and he is far more clever than I. And since you are reading this when you could be doing literally anything else, we'll assume more clever than you as well.)

And so it goes with my opinion of the preening gaggle of self-congratulatory dilettantes at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I hate them until they do something I agree with. While I never remember actually thinking that the Academy ever had a particularly firm grasp of the nuances between, say, an ass and an elbow, I didn't start actively reviling them until 1994 when PULP FICTION lost Best Picture to the jogging retard movie, a travesty applauded by pabulum-minded greeting card peddlers and bunny snugglers the world over. Since then I have watched their monkeyshines with a popcorn tub full of hot buttery detachment and contempt.

Anyway, hypocrisy.

The 2008 Oscar nominations were announced this morning and Ellen Page got a big gold star for her performance in JUNO. While I have an oversize tote full of rat’s asses to give for their other opinions, Page’s nomination not only seems reasonable to me but universally just.

I have not seen JUNO. (SWEENEY TODD first, then THE ORPHANAGE, then AVP-R it it's still in theaters and then JUNO.) But I do not need to see JUNO to know that Ellen Page, despite being just a wee behbeh, is one of the greatest actresses on screen today. Because I've seen HARD CANDY.

HARD CANDY (or as it was released in the United Kingdom, CRIKEY! MY BALLS!) is a 2005 indie torture-horror thriller that came out to significant praise and few screens. Page is brilliant. She's right up there with Anthony Hopkins in the Best Performance In a Horror Movie category. (Which is not a real category because there's only a nominee about once ever decade.) HARD CANDY is an unnerving game of cat and mouse between a sexual predator and his intended victim, but this particular cat and mouse turn out to be more like ITCHY & SCRATCHY and the cat ends up drugged and tied to a table with his nuts on ice.

Page’s performance is relentless. In a movie with a cast of about five, she owns the screen whenever she’s on it. I remember sitting in the theatre thinking that this girl was going to go on to screen greatness and voila – a mere two years later and she could be Best Actress. And if she isn’t this year, she will be. My gawd, she’s not even old enough to drink yet.

If you missed it, pop HARD CANDY into your Netflix queue. Unlike many of the movies that I will recommend as this blog develops, it’s legitimately good. Better yet, watch it after you get home from seeing JUNO. It would be like some sick Sweet Valley High version of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde.

Friday, January 18, 2008


It's 2 am on Friday, 1/18/08, and it will surprise no one that's ever met me that I just spent the previous 99 minutes at the midnight viewing of CLOVERFIELD. For the record, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is still the best American made giant monster movie ever.

CLOVERFIELD loses on a technicality because really, it's not a giant monster movie. It's a love story that has a giant monster in it. And even in that category, it only rates second. Top honors still go to the original KING KONG. Had I known that CLOVERFIELD was going to spend so much screen time on its soap opera, I'd be asleep right now. I definitely would have seen CLOVERFIELD in a theatre someday - and enjoyed it - but I wouldn't have pumped my pasty carcass full of Mountain Dew so I could do it NOW NOW NOW.

The thing that's going to keep CLOVERFIELD alive in the hearts and minds of basement dwelling fanboys forever is what the movie doesn't show you. Which is hardly anything. There is no backstory. There is no explanation for or of anything. And when it comes to giant monsters, there's always a reason. Your bomb/mineshaft/volcano/loud rock music disturbed my eternal slumber. You stole my baby/egg/girlfriend/sacred relic/twin fairies. Your alien invasion/robot version of me is not welcome here.

In CLOVERFIELD, the monster attacks New York and everybody dies, and in between those two events, a bunch of yuppie hipsters try to save their friend and not get eaten along the way in an escalating series of what-the-#$%@! moments. That's pretty much all that happens and since the whole thing is POV of people caught in the thick of it, that's all you're told. But the Interweb is packed to bursting with backstory, including a lot of the theories I posited myself yesterday. Like the whole Slusho thing - you see it on that one guy's t-shirt and that is it. But online, there's plenty of support for a veritable cornucopia of explanations. In fact, everything about the film is open to a million theories, each one as valid as the one before it. It's a college film professor's wet dream.

I also want to be on record as stating unequivocally that in any city-crushing smackdown, GODZILLA would slap CLOVERFIELD's ass silly and take it's lunch money. The CLOVERFIELD monster is just not that impressive. It's cool and all, but it suffers from that same, too prevalent lanky-armed, barrel-chested, skinny-waisted, pasty-skinned character design that you can see in INDEPENDENCE DAY, PUMPKINHEAD, THE CAVE, WAR OF THE WORLDS (the Tom Cruise one) and dozens of other contemporary monster flicks. If you're supposed to be big enough to knock over a building, look the part. I like my giant monsters with some meat on their bones. Gangly, shaven sea gibbons just don't pack that punch. That fake whale monster fan art? Much better.

All in all, see CLOVERFIELD. It's a good popcorn thrill ride.

Then go buy THE HOST on DVD. It's a better movie.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

GORGOID, The Stuff From 20,000 Fathoms:
My Cloverfield Theories

Make no mistake, I loves me some giant monster movies.

My love is pathological and unreasoning. I saw GODZILLA’S REVENGE on a Saturday afternoon creature feature when I was nine and after that, I had a radioactive lizard on my back. Greatest giant monster movie ever? GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRYS (Japan, 1999). Worst giant monster movie ever? THE GIANT CLAW (USA, 1957). I have seen them all, except for the really obscure Korean ones like SPACE MONSTER WANGWAGWI. I don't mean for that to sound like bragging. I am merely stating my credentials up front.

In case you somehow missed it, CLOVERFIELD comes out this Friday and as far as pre-opening hype goes, it’s easily 2008’s SNAKES ON A PLANE (which in turn was 2006’s BLAIR WITCH PROJECT). Unlike SNAKES, though, CLOVERFIELD might actually be something that people would want to spend nine dollars to see. In fact, the CLOVERFIELD teaser campaign could be so effective that the movie will flop: at approximately 22:40 hours later today, Thurdsay, 1/17/08, half of CLOVERFIELD’s main audience of sci-fi fanboys and Internerds will die of brain aneurysms brought on by the pressure of over-conjecturing about what the damn monster is.

So far, actual details about the film have been scarce. No one outside of the film’s cognoscenti has any verifiable intel regarding the monster and that’s driving many an Internerd crazier than Lindsay Lohan at a pharmaceutical tradeshow. The theories and rumors, however, are rampant and range from the truly moronic to probably better than the actual film. I am here to sift through some of those and posit one or two of my own.

Here’s what we know.

First, we know that bad stuff happens. The opening of the trailer says:
So right off the bat, we know that the people taking the video were unable to deliver the camera themselves (dum dum dum!) and that however things went down, Central Park didn’t survive (dumdumdum DUMMMM!!!). CLOVERFIELD is a faux documentary shot by the folks living it, just like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and this doom and gloom set up certainly implies that the heroes don’t fare any better than those hippie kids did.

We also know that the film is being produced by JJ Abrams (LOST, ALIAS) and was written by Drew Goddard (LOST, ALIAS, BUFFY, ANGEL). There’s not a lot of big screen experience here, but there’s a lot of imagination and good judgment so that’s a good sign. The film is being directed by Matt Reeves (FELICITY, and, um, FELICITY) but since he’s vetted by Abrams that’s pretty much an all season fast pass.

CLOVERFIELD was originally a crafty codename intended to keep the film a secret. It’s the name of the street in Santa Monica where the movie’s offices were. Other working titles have included CHEESE, PARASITE and SLUSHO. This Slusho thing is either key or a brilliant red herring. To wit:



Slusho is a fake Japanese soft drink that first appeared in ALIAS. If you’re paying really close attention, the character Jason (Mike Vogel) is sporting the Slusho brand on his t-shirt in the CLOVERFIELD trailer. Coincidence? From the guys that brought us the Dharma Initiative? Let’s assume not.

The Slusho site tells us that Slusho’s secret ingredient, “Seabed’s Nectar”, is some mysterious ooze from the bottom of the ocean – so it only makes sense that the Japanese would be the first to eat it. It also states that Slusho is so addictive that you will become a “small whale” from drinking it. My gut is that this is a rare case of too much truth in advertising.

Other pages inform us that the FDA “and other such organizations” haven’t approved it for human consumption yet. Curioser and curioser. Assume something sinister and ascribe mind and body altering effects to your Slusho habit; the customer quotes from the Happy Talk page become quite ominous. My favorites are “she is one of them” and “Slusho makes my stomach explode with happy.” The picture below is from the trailer. Somebody’s stomach is sure exploding with something but from the screaming, “happy” isn’t my first guess.

We also know two things about the monster thanks to a recent press release by Abrams. He says that the monster is “a baby. He’s brand-new. He’s confused, disoriented and irritable. And he’s been down there in the water for thousands and thousands of years.” Abrams goes on to mention that our skyscraper sized baby is host to “parasites” that he sloughs off in a sort of “post-birth ritual.” And of course, once a giant monster’s giant parasites lose their meal ticket, they’re going to hook their claws into whatever else looks most edible. One one hand, I love this plan. It only makes sense that a monster the size of Rhode Island would have its own ecosystem. There’s a hint of this idea in 1954 in the original GOJIRA, when investigators find a living trilobite in one of Godzilla’s footprints. There’s also a glimpse of this sort of symbiosis in Frank Darabont’s THE MIST, at the end when the giant whatever steps over the car, with flocks of something-or-others circling it. On the other hand, if these minimonsters turn out to be baby Cloverfields we’ve got the same cheap Jurassic Park rip-off that Roland Emmerich’s blasphemous 1998 GODZILLA travesty devolved into. That’s the point where I kidnap Abrams and sell his kidneys on the black market to get my ticket money back.

Roving packs of five-foot whale lice would indeed bring the horror down to the street level with the five partiers and their handheld video camera. After all, the Japanese know that the best way to focus on a giant monster for a whole movie is to have it fight another giant monster, and CLOVERFIELD shows no signs of that.

So from what little info we have, we can discount many of the fanboy theories. It’s not another American GODZILLA film, nor is it a legitimate American licensing of the true Toho GODZILLA. (Abrams has said on numerous occasions that he’s looking to make his own mark on giant monster cinema so look for an original beastie.) Robots don’t have parasites so it isn’t VOLTRON. It’s comes up from the bottom of the ocean so making it an alien would be an unnecessary detail. And despite the fact that it comes up from the ocean, it’s not CTHULHU. This last theory is surprisingly popular amongst the geekery despite how obviously wrong it is. Cthulhu isn’t about knocking over buildings in New York. It’s about rising out of the tide in Massachusetts and driving anyone with monkey DNA batshit crazy just from the sight of it. Backing Cthulhu in this movie is like voting for Nader: you and your crazy friends know it could be the best choice ever, but the other 99% of the universe doesn’t know what the fuck you’re babbling about.

The filmmakers have also publicly stated that the creature is not a mutated whale, a la an exceptionally convincing piece of fan art by fantasy artist Doug Williams that has been grist for the rumor mills all over the Interweb. A whale monster would be a nice little homage to Godzilla whose Japanese name, Gojira, is a derivation of the Japanese word for whale, kujira. Keep that little nugget tucked away for bar trivia night.

I think we need to consider that the filmmakers’ refute of the whale theory may in fact be a big, fat lie. Williams’ wonder whale was definitely designed with a human wearing a rubber suit in mind: just look at the arms and legs beneath all those the flippers. Then read the two “Smilers!” press releases on the Tagruato website for a glimpse into the effects of animals on Slusho. Some whales do dive down deep to feed. Does Seabed’s Nectar cause mutations? Whatever the creature is, it’s coming up from the depths. This future DVD extra bears that out nicely:

So here’s where I’m putting my money.

CLOVERFIELD is going to be a cautionary tale. Nine out of 10 giant monster movies share the same basic caveat: when you dick with the natural order, prepare to be counterdicked a hundredfold. The original GOJIRA/GODZILLA came in the aftermath of America scaring the crap out of the world with the A-bomb. Godzilla was and has always been a metaphor for the dangers of unchecked nuclear power. In the 70’s, when we as a society first started actively caring about what we dumped, tossed, burned and flushed, Godzilla put on a white hat when an even greater threat emerged in GOJIRA TAI HEDORAH aka GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER.

Fast forward thirty years and we’re living in a world where global warming and overconsumption of natural resources threatens to burn out the planet while we’re still standing on it. That’s freakin’ terrifying! Now suppose that somewhere out there on the 2/3 of the planet that we’ve never explored, something bigger than us starts wondering what douchebag has been turning up the thermostat and drinking all his Slusho without chipping in. Pissed? Oh, you bet.

While I am confident that Abrams N’ Palz™ are more than clever enough to come up with their own giant monster story, I’m betting that CLOVERFIELD finds its inspiration not from Godzilla, not from Japanese robots and certainly not from squidheaded cosmic overlords, but rather from GORGO, THE STUFF and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

GORGO is a UK giant monster movie where the titular beast shows up, wrecks a little bit of London and then is captured and put on display. It turns out that Gorgo is actually just a baby and the real fireworks start when mommy shows up, wrecks the rest of London and rescues her wubbykins. Abrams has already told us that his monster is just “a baby.” Will our trigger-happy military actually manage to make it cry loud enough for mommy to hear? That would suck for us.

THE STUFF is a rarely remembered 1985 Larry Cohen film about killer yogurt. An old miner finds a bunch of bubbling white goo coming out of the ground and before you can say “addictive microorganisms that control your brain before they melt your bones,” an ice cream company slaps a label on it and sells it all over the world. Does that ring a bell?
(Besides Slurm, I mean.) It’s a safe bet that Slusho is at least part of the reason that the CLOVERFIELD leviathan is so ornery. Have we been wantonly pillaging its food source, like we do the rest of the planet? Or is Slusho even creepier, as in one of the creature’s own precious bodily fluids? I would never stop laughing if it turned out that the world’s most popular soft drink was Godzilla semen. Neh-ver.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is, to this day, arguably the greatest American giant monster movie, even more so when you consider that it came out three years before the domestic release of the original GODZILLA. In this little gem, a surviving dinosaur gets thawed out by an A-bomb test in the Arctic (ahem! global warming! ahem!) and starts trashing (drumroll please) New York City. The military quickly learn that they can shoot the Beast but in doing so, a virulent contagion spreads from the monster’s splattered blood. So in that movie the virus turned out to be the real problem and in this one, the parasites do. Or the Slusho does. In either case, a giant monster rampaging through your city is an excellent distraction from the more immediate threat. Like how a war is supposedly more important than dying polar bears.

Too political? I’m sorry.

But for all my speculation - which isn’t even enough of the tip of the iceberg to make a decent Spoogezilla smoothie with – CLOVERFIELD is already being shipped to theatres and the odds of any of my or anyone’s rambling being relevant in 48 hours is 50/50 at best. I’ve already got my ticket and my swelling aneurysm for the Thursday midnight thundergeek pre-showing: that’s all that matters right now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Masters of Horror, Season 2

Ready for round 2?

I know I was. Despite the fact that much of MOH 1 was flaccid at best, I still find myself riveted to the concept of a weekly horror anthology show. The hope it gives me in inextinguishable. It has to be. Cuz let’s face it, as horror fans we put up with a lot of crap. For every THE EXORCIST, there are ten thousand SLEEPAWAY CAMP IIs waiting to sodomize what few precious cinematic standards we cling to. We need to know that there are “masters” at work, keeping this ol’ dead horse alive and eating brains, and that the next EVIL DEAD or PSYCHO or GINGER SNAPS is right around the corner.

Let’s see what sort of hope MOH 2 brought us.

I assuming that the title is actually referring to this episode’s script, which is clichéd, predictable and lacks an ending. The story just stops – which after an hour was okay by me. When I saw Tobe Hooper’s and Richard Matheson’s names in the credits, my eyes totally made that ah-OOGA sound. Those two geniuses are given an hour to play and they do this? I remain bewildered and twitching to this day. After the stumbling DANCE OF THE DEAD last season, Hooper is 0 for 2.

John Landis has still got it, and directs George Wendt in a likeable performance as a lonely, suburban psychopath. FAMILY is a popcorn-worthy hour and one of this season’s best. The performances were even diverting enough that the relatively predictable ending snuck right by me. Landis, you sly boots, you. With DEER WOMAN under your belt, you’re 2 for 2.

Ernest Dickerson did as well as could be expected with Mick Garris’ bipolar script. The first half of this vampire yarn is wonderfully suspenseful and creepier than the repressed memories of an inappropriate uncle. Spooky ol’ Michael Ironside is nothing short of perfect as the alpha vampire. But despite this strong hand, the second half makes a hard right turn into SappyTown. The young hero, now a vampire himself, is emboldened by the power of loooooooove and overcomes Ironside’s eeeeeevil influence in order to save his own baby sister. Turn your volume up loud enough and you’ll still hear the echoes of my dry heaving. I’ve seen Scooby Doos that didn’t have that pat of an ending.

Brad Anderson wrote and directed SESSION 9, which is easily one of the best and most underappreciated horror movies of this decade. He also directed THE MACHINIST, which, while not a horror movie in the strictest sense, rocks. Like these two gems, SOUNDS LIKE follows Anderson’s trademark theme of creeping insanity that may or may not have supernatural causes. Unlike the two films, Anderson is not given a feature’s worth of time to develop the story. As a result, SOUNDS LIKE feels rushed and I was often left with that ‘um...whaaaa?” feeling. This includes the climax, which balances being a cop out and a gory crescendo at the same time. I’m nitpicking, though, and SOUNDS LIKE is an entertaining cerebral palate cleanser between monster episodes. Hell, compared to most of the episodes this season, SOUNDS LIKE walks on water.

Myself, I support the right to choose. In this case, I chose to fast forward through the most contrived script and hammiest acting in the whole series in order to get to a cool looking monster. John Carpenter not only screwed the pooch on this episode, he shaved its back and stole its chewtoy. It's hard to find dialogue delivered this badly outside of an Oxy Clean infomercial, but PRO-LIFE pulls it off. Carpenter’s average for the series stands at .5 for 2. CIGARETTE BURNS was one of last season’s best, but there needs to be a penalty for this subcrap turdtacular. You’re John Fracking Carpenter, man! You know better.

Back to the monster – or better, all the monsters. The most consistent masters of horror of the series - the artists that manage to not only deliver but deliver with a smile and a side of fries every episode - are Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero and their legion of astoundingly talented flying monkeys from KNB EFX Group. Perhaps even more critical to each episode than Garris himself, Berger and Nicotero are the delicious reason I keep licking this lollipop every week, even though half the time it tastes like honey on a hairball.

Which beats the hell out of a hairball without honey.

But I digress.

Speak of honey-covered hairballs and they shall appear. Italian director Dario Argento has a rep for weaving offbeat supernatural phenomena into tales of brutal violence. But the ghosts of raccoons haunting an evil furrier? That’s not offbeat, that’s guh-hey. Argento ends up 1 for 2, saved by last season’s JENIFER.

Bingo! Big fat gold star to Joe Dante and writer Sam Hamm for delivering the series’ second best episode ever. Although the title telegraphs the ending to anyone that's ever watched a National Geographic special, this is one of the few episodes that would make a fantastic feature length movie (if you can overlook the relative buzzkill of the extinction of the human race). Inventive, violent, suspenseful, well directed and acted – with a dark twist on current trends of “green living” that I for one found very welcome. Paired with HOMECOMING from last season, Dante proves to be the series’ most dependable director. I’m calling it 3 for 2.

Mick Garris pens and helms this tale of figments of the imagination that don’t know their place. Our hero learns too late that beautiful naked women that magically appear on staircases can’t be trusted the same way you’d trust, say, a beautiful naked woman throwing up in the bushes outside of a nightclub. Remember kids; drunk and naked, yes, magic and naked, no. Tony Todd appears as the episodes monster du jour, an old school demon straight out of HAXAN. Berger and Nicotero wove their usual makeup magic on Todd but honestly, his voice and demeanor alone are enough to empty the bravest of bladders. VOTS isn’t outstanding but since neither this nor CHOCOLATE went so far as to actually suck, Garris’ directorial average is kicking around 1.3 for 2.

Rob Schmidt? Seriously? How did the guy that directed WRONG TURN get to be a “master” of horror? Was George Romero too busy doing comic book conventions? Jesus wept, people.

Ironically (and I really, truly mean that), this episode was turned out okay. The skinless apparition of the scorned and scorched lady burn victim was ghastly and inventive and when the antagonist is force-fed his just desserts, the story proves satisfying. And while I am not usually a fan of gratuitous sex being shoehorned into a script as filler, Julia Anderson’s soft-core hot tub scene is hotter than a Rolex on a hobo. PARENTS: if you’re concerned about that horror addicted, comic book reading, Warcraft playing, mathlete teenage son of yours, rent him this. If that hot tub scene doesn’t have him grabbing his inhaler for dear life, face the fact that you’re never going to have grandchildren.

I didn’t even have to eject this DVD. My player vomited all by itself.

How director Tom Holland and writer David Schow were able to take something as universally creepy as the killer ghost of a retarded clown and make it, well, more retarded is beyond my capacity for forgiveness.

prediktabul nding. I haz it.
But the good news is Stuart Gordon isn’t sodomizing another Lovecraft story. And the better news is he’s not rolling Poe over, either. This BLACK CAT is an original tale that features Jeffrey Combs as Poe himself in a fictional tale of the hardship and inspiration, lovingly sprinkled with murder and animal torture, leading up to the penning of the title story. And guess what? It didn’t suck at all. Better than that, even – I’d watch it again. Gordon managed to put aside his trademark lack of subtlety and direct Combs in an atmospheric tale of spiraling self-destruction that’s actually reinforced by the gratuitous gore instead of being distracted by it. I enjoyed it enough that the utterly formulaic ending didn’t even faze me. Congratulations, Stuart. You ended up 1 for 2. You may have a cookie.

Cannibals? Creepy. Old guys in makeup and powdered wigs? Also creepy. George Washington used his wooden teeth to eat virgins? Creepy trifecta! Congratulations, you have my attention. The actors delivering their lines like a community theatre production of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN? Oopsie doodle, you just lost it. Time for a sammich.

Norio Tsuruta’s DREAM CRUISE is the last of season 2 to come out on DVD. I won’t lie: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve yet to read one favorable review and from all accounts it’s another case of a vengeful, watery Asian ghost girl with long, magic hair tentacles. Come on, Asian directors! Isn’t there anything else you’re scared of? Giant lizards? Declining math scores?

O sure, I’ll see DREAM CRUISE eventually. With the Writer’s Guild still on strike, I’m even amazing myself at the crap I’ve been watching. If DREAM CRUISE exceeds my expectations – which are currently hovering at none – I’ll append this.

That’s it for season 2. Not half bad, but not really half good either. Luckily, horror fans tend a ‘glass half full’ kinda bunch. Which has always struck me as odd.

And now, we wait.

Showtime, a CBS company, has kicked MASTERS OF HORROR to the curb and this summer it resurfaces, reinvented, as 13 episodes of FEAR ITSELF on NBC. It’s an interesting move for NBC. MOH is not exactly small screen gold: edited for network TV, most of the episodes would either be unwatchably dull or unworkably short. That means that story alone will have to fill the gaps left by gore and boobies. As if such a thing were possible.

Still there’s hope. NBC is obviously comfortable subjecting its viewers to unreasoning, mind-numbing horror. After all, this is the network that greenlit JOEY.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Masters of Horror, Season 1

When I first heard about THE MASTERS OF HORROR, I started giggling like a Japanese schoolgirl on Red Bull. This, I thought, is why Prometheus gave us television.

As of this writing, MOH has been on the air two seasons on Showtime and the third season is migrating to NBC under the title FEAR ITSELF. That…will be interesting. Both of the Showtime seasons have been available on DVD for a while now and since this effort was pretty significant for horror fans I’m chiming in, late as opposed to never. After all, it’s part of my mission here to save you $3.79 at Blockbuster whenever possible. Think of me as your seeing eye dog that’s specially trained to keep you from stepping in another dog’s poop.

Here’s what Season 1 had to offer. Keep in mind that these men have the eggs to call themselves “Masters” so I see no reason to cut them even a shred of slack.

Entertain me, monkey boys!

In the series’ premier episode, director Don Coscarelli weaves a tale about a young girl being menaced by a deformed serial killer. Way to hit the ground yawning, guys.

You know the story about Rumpelstiltskin, the elf that spins straw into gold? That’s how I feel about Stuart Gordon, except that he is not an elf. He is a wheezing bridge troll that takes the gold of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the greatest horror author in the history of ever, and serially spins it into mule vomit. I could not hate this episode more if it had shot my dog and stolen my truck.

Directed by Tobe Hooper and starring Robert Englund, this episode literally brought me to my feet. So that I could walk over to my DVD player, take out the disc and throw it as hard as I could at my cat. I needed something to share my pain.

aka Night Of The Butterface. The main problem with JENIFER is that unless you’re making a sammich during the first three minutes, you already know exactly what the next 57 minutes lead up to. But if you’re a fan of the old CREEPY magazine and are familiar with the source material by horror überartist Berni Wrightson, you’ll appreciate Dario Argento’s faithful adaptation as much as I did. Not too shabby.

Here’s a fun bit of cocktail party banter: although the MOH directors are generally given free rein, Argento scored the series’ first censorship with two scenes of graphic oral sex that never made it to air (but supposedly are on the DVD special features). Personally, just watching Jenifer eat a Twix would be enough to stimulate my gag reflex so I might have to side with the angels on this one.

MOH series creator wrote and directed this episode about a food designer lab guy that develops a unique psychic link with a murderess. My guess is that they were running short on the effects budget and needed an episode that didn’t have a cool monster in it. Luh-hame.

Finally! Joe Dante starts his streak as one of the season’s and the series’ best contributors with this thinly veiled jab at the Bush administration by screenwriter Sam Hamm. Zombie soldiers rock the vote. I love this episode.

A series of bizarre trucker murders leads a detective to a Native American were-deer woman. In theory this sounds gayer than Allan Cumming getting his own fragrance but in practice, director John Landis turns this into one of the season’s best episodes.

Zeus of horror, John Carpenter, continues the show’s winning streak with this story about a movie that drives its audiences insane. (Hell, he got plenty of practice doing the same thing in IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS in 1995 so this should have been a walk in the park.) This episode also features the disturbingly puffy and fish-eyed Udo Kier, a one-man atmospheric slam dunk for any horror film. Udo Kier could do an IHOP commercial and I’d still feel like I needed a shower afterwards.

How the epileptic chimpanzee that directed FEARDOTCOM was able to keep the MOH streak going is an utter mystery to me, but director William Malone delivered this solid episode about a warlock couple that just want something to hug. The creature in this episode is delicious and could have carried its own feature. My favorite bugaboo in the whole series so far.

MAY is one of my favorite horror films of the last decade and I’m sure I’ll ramble on about it at some point, so of course I let out a high pitched squeal when I found out that director Lucky McKee was reuniting with Angela Bettis for this one. Add in horror porn star Erin Brown (aka Misty Mundae) and a vicious beetle that can scramble your DNA and baby, you got yourself a stew. A little campy at times, but fun.

At this point, I'm encouraged. There's been a streak of five episodes ranging from entertaining to legitimately good and I've almost got the dry, grainy taste of the season’s first three episodes out of my mouth.

WHAMMO! Larry Cohen delivers the series’ best episode by a wide margin. Who would have thought that the guy that did IT’S ALIVE III had this in him? Now, I’m not a fan of torture horror. I usually need something supernatural in a movie to really grab my attention. But this story, written by David Schow, about a turf war between two serial killers is original and captivating, and casting Fairuza Balk as the mouse caught between the cats was genius. If you only see one episode of MOH, blar dee blar blar blar.

I can’t wait to see how good the next episode is, can you?????

O goddammit. Who gave a Clive Barker story to the guy that directed WILD THINGS? You know it's just gonna be about dicks. What, was the title NYMPHO WITCH ZOMBIE GANGBANG already taken? After loving every second of PICK ME UP, enduring HAECKEL’S TALE was like my TV punching me square in the Adam's apple.

Takashi Miike is going to get his own blog here someday. Oh, you can bet on that, pumpkins.

But I digress.

IMPRINT was the object of much buzz because SHOWTIME REFUSED TO AIR IT! Sweet buttery jeebus on a cracker, what unearthly visions of mind-wrenching madness and gut-churning mayhem could Miike be trying to jam into our horror holes?!! He couldn’t have come up with something more horrifying than his film AUDITION, could he have?

Well, yes. And no. Here’s my theory. Mick Garris called Miike. “Takashi. Babe. Listen. I’ve got this series on American television and you can do whatever you want for an hour. Interested?” So Miike thinks for a second. “Let’s see…what would creep out an American audience? How about extended prostitute-on-prostitute torture sequences with needles, incest, vestigal twins and a Civil War grade abortion clinic set next to a clear mountain stream so that I can film the deformed feti struggle for life as they bob on their way out to sea? Groovy, let’s do this.”

So while IMPRINT is chock full ta’bustin’ with truly ghastly sequences and imagery, they don’t hold together as a story. It’s just too much for one hour. Your enthusiasm is appreciated, Miike-san, but seriously, try decaf.

Next up – Masters of Horror Season 2.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

HATCHET: Axe me again and I'll kill you the same.

There are three things I want everyone to know about HATCHET.

The first is that Mercedes McNab (aka "Harmony" from the Buffy-verse) needs to leave her clothes on. I'm not often accused or prudery nor would I find myself administering the proverbial kick for the proverbial cracker should the otherwise nubile Miss McNab be involved. It's just that the poor poppet is sporting one of those unfortunate boobjobs where the implants have started migrating towards the armpits, causing her nipples to slant inwards and give her funbags an off-putting, cross-eyed effect. Highlighting those in the first ten minutes of the movie telegraphed a freshman director whose judgment is less than razor keen. And completely spoiled a piece of Harmony on Willow fan porn that I've lost the will to write. Sigh.

The second is that actor Joel David Moore is a font of underappreciated screen goodness, so much so that I've already added SPIRAL (which is also by HATCHET director, Adam Green) to my Netflix queue. Joel David Moore may not ring any bells but you've seen this guy. His trademark Gilligan meets Shaggy awkwardness is refreshingly genre-neutral and, in HATCHET, makes him a solid comic foil for mayhem. I should also mention that he is from Portland and I have a soft spot for the local boys. In fact, I once met Moore's family at an Old Town Chicago Pizza Works after the local premiere of DODGEBALL, in which Moore plays Owen and scores my favorite crazy-eyed Amazon, Missi Pyle. Good on you, you lanky bastard. His family was a salt of the earth, good natured crew that could not have been more proud of their son/sibling/cousin and went on at great length about his success to anyone with a sympathetic ear. I was of course interested in knowing why, if Moore was so loved and successful, weren't his sainted parents seeing DODGEBALL in Hollywood with their son and Vince Vaughn instead of in Clackamas with Aunt Ruby. Sadly, the jalapeño poppers had just arrived so no satisfactory answer was forthcoming.

There is a scene in HATCHET where Moore witnesses boogieman of the week, Victor Crowley (played with practiced ease by Kane Hodder), cleaving his best friend from collarbone to hip (as homicidal hunchbacks are so oft to do). Moore's response is one of the more reasonable in recent slasher film memory: beat feet and when you've attained some distance, vomit like a you're in a Monty Python sketch. And by jingo, there was no sad, mouthful-of-thousand-island-dressing vomit that most "actors" expect us to swallow as gut-wrenching pathos for JDM! Nay, I say! This was a violent fountain of half-digested fear, an acrid plume of viscous, yellow-green fury that seemed to erupt from Moore's very soul! Dumbfounded, I paused the movie and watched the scene frame by frame, looking for the hoses, the bladder, anything that could cue me in to how they did it. Nothing. Moore - for his art, for his film, for the dusty, forgotten gods of cinéma-vérité - was legitimately hurling like an Amish schoolgirl full of cheap tequila, an act that was further supported by the DVD's special features. Take notes, students. Joel David Moore is the new Lizard King Viking Sex God of character actors. You may quote me.

And the third thing (remember? stay with me) is something you'd think I'd have already learned by now. The more effusive the critical praise for a horror film is prior to its limited theatrical release (especially when it comes from horror-biased sources like BLOODY DISGUSTING and ICONS OF FRIGHT), the higher the likelihood that it will choke. Horror icon Kane Hodder even went so far as to say - and I quote - “This is the best horror movie I have ever been involved with. All I can say is that it’s great. I stake my reputation on it.”

Wow. Hodder was in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and JASON X, two horror films that grace my permanent collection for two very different reasons, so this is high praise indeed. Either HATCHET is a buttery slice of cinematic gold or Hodder is an indiscriminate shill whose pants are on fire. G'wan, take a guess.

Let's just say that as far as being a film critic, Hodder is an excellent stuntman.

But I want to be fair to HATCHET. It's not a horrible movie. If you're a insatiable horror movie slutpig like myself, HATCHET is practically required viewing. It's what all the cool kids are watching. And it's a damn sight better than 90% of the pestilent drivel that's passed off as horror these days. So don't overlook it because I was left wanting. I am callous and bitchy, with unrealistic expectations, a hair trigger hatred for sloppy film making and a petty but seething jealousy for one-shit wonders that somehow manage to get their vomitous films into every Blockbuster in the universe. It isn't right. And no, I did not misspell one-hit.

And make no mistake, HATCHET is a sloppy film. In one of HATCHET's final sequences, the three main characters find themselves being chased through a cemetery by the maniac. As if subtitling the movie as "Old School American Horror" could possibly forgive this sort of cliché, my favorite bit is when the protagonists lean against an ancient, moss-covered mausoleum - oh-so-subtly emblazoned with the director's surname in giant gold letters - and the whole wall wobbles like it was made out of paper mache. Because it was. I was about to rewind the DVD to make sure I had seen what I thought I saw, but the editor was kind enough to include two more shots with the same wobbly wall. I assumed that the director meant Jason or Freddy when he said "Old School American Horror" but I guess he meant Ed Wood.

But despite this and other shoddy production design, some clumsy directing, the predictable story arc and the lazy character design (the maniac Crowley is unremarkable and little more than an unmasked Jason), I managed to enjoy HATCHET for what it was. The cinematography was consistent and the acting was surprisingly solid for a film of this budget. Director/writer Adam Green did a nice job with much of the dialogue and obviously has a penchant for blending humor and horror that I assume will blossom once he loses his directorial baby teeth. And here's what most of you are waiting for: the gore. The gore is plentiful and fairly splendid. The deaths are straightforward hatchet jobs (ba-rum-BUM kissssssh!) that are obviously crafted with a canonical reverence for the subject matter that I feel makes up for their lack of originality.

None of it is as good as that vomit shot, though.