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.


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!