Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Psychobabble's 200 Essential Horror Movies: The Complete List

Click the blue links to see detailed reviews of all 150 films decade by decade.

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
2. Genuine (1920)
3. The Golem (1920)
4. The Phantom Carriage (1921)
5. Nosferatu (1922)
6. Häxan (1922)
7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
8. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
9. Faust (1926)
10. The Cat and the Canary (1927)
11. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

12. Dracula (1931)
13. Frankenstein (1931)
14. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Diary of the Dead 2012: Week 4

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Monday in October (as was the case last year, I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 22

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011- dir. Troy Nixey) ***½

For the most part I was pleasantly surprised by this remake of a 1973 TV movie, perhaps because I never saw the original. Little Sally and her folks move into a rundown mansion infested with tiny demonic tooth fairies. Sally’s explorations through the house reminded me a little of Coraline, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark shares that film’s willingness to show kids in real danger. Unlike Coraline, this movie is probably too scary and violent to actually show to most kids. My biggest problem is that we see way too much of the CG monsters. And why would they cast a girl who looks exactly like Katie Holmes to play Holmes’s stepdaughter? The filmmakers really missed an opportunity to make Holmes Sally’s biological mother, but then they couldn’t have taken advantage of all those “kid adjusting to new mommy” clichés.

October 23

Lisa and the Devil (1974- dir. Mario Bava) ****

Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil finds tourist Elke Sommer taking her room and board at Alida Valli’s haunted mansion. Telly Savalas is a satanic butler and there’s a weeping phantom with a taste for chocolate sprinkles. Lisa and the Devil is a sometimes bloody, sometimes romantic, sometimes darkly comic, always incomprehensible Old Dark House yarn. Everyone is totally nuts, but Savalas takes the cake. In other words: it’s fab.

October 25

Bay of Blood (1971- dir. Mario Bava) *½

I kept waiting for this proto-slasher tedium to become a Mario Bava movie, but it never did. The master just wasn’t trying when he dashed off this crap about a killer stalking the woods around a bay. If this is the movie that inspired the pathetic Friday the 13th, then it’s utterly unforgiveable. Half-a-star for an effectively gross shot of a live octopus crawling on a corpse’s face.

The Raven (1935- dir. Louis Friedlander) ****

Early in The Raven, we learn that sadist Bela Lugosi is so obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe that he actually built an actual pit and an actual pendulum in his basement. No doubt, Chekhov’s pendulum is going to be put to use by the end of this film, but first Dr. Bela has to become obsessed with a pretty patient and give Boris Karloff a bad facelift. We also get to hear Lugosi recite the title poem, which has to be some sort of cultural landmark. He clearly had a great time playing this role. Plus there’s the rare opportunity to hear Karloff do his famed Frankenstein growl without the flattop make up. Louis Friedlander is not in the same league as Universal’s best directors—Whale, Browning, Ulmer, Freund—but he tosses together a nice potboiler of macabre and jolly schlock.

October 26

The Premature Burial (1962- dir. Roger Corman) ***½

The Premature Burial is similar to so many of Roger Corman's Poe pictures in that it takes a story that was already sketchy on the page and stretches it as thin as is imaginable. But, goddamn, does it ever look fantastic! Corman was a master of aesthetic and atmosphere, and The Premature Burial provides the opportunity to spend 80 minutes in cobwebby crypts and foggy graveyards. Where else would you rather be?

October 27

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971- dir. Seth Holt/Michael Carreras) **

Sorry, but Valerie Leon in a super sexy Egyptian princess get up is not enough to raise this Stoker adaptation from the dead. Leon suffers on-and-off possession from long-entombed Princess Tera and people start dropping dead. There's some languid investigating and some exploitative gore and lots and lots of talk all adding up to very little. Seth Holt died of a heart attack while directing this movie and Hammer head Michael Carreras took over. 

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932- dir. Robert Florey) ****

Another Halloween season approaches its finale and Diary of the Dead shudders to a close with a screening at the lovely Landmark Loews in Jersey City. Poe mostly gets tossed out the window for Universal's bizarre adaptation of Murders in the Rue Morgue. Instead, Bela Lugosi is a particularly mad scientist who somehow seeks to prove the theory of evolution by injecting women with gorilla blood. It sounds silly, but plays out sadistically and Karl Freund's background in German Expressionism oozes through his disturbed cinematography. The intentional humor is strong too, particularly in a gag in which three men give their interpretations of monkey language. 

Hope your Halloween is terrifying... and not hurricane terrifying.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: 'Who I Am' by Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend may be the most literate and self-scrutinizing Rock star, so he is particularly suited to composing an autobiography. Even when writing about ostensibly fictional characters like Tommy and Jimmy the Mod, he’d essentially been telling his story in song since the earliest days of The Who.

Who I Am is important because it sets the fiction aside from the fact, and as is always his way, Townshend’s honesty drives the narrative. At times, this can be utterly enlightening, as when he pores over his childhood, his strained relationship with ex-wife Karen Astley (can she be the most patient woman in Rock & Roll history?), the ordeal of the child pornography investigation that is now an unfortunate addendum to any book about the man, and his serious difficulties with drugs and booze. Townshend’s willingness to let us in on the less savory aspects of his life can be a problem too. As The Who’s grandest years fell behind him, he immersed himself in the kind of self-destructive and promiscuous behavior that must have been harrowing to live through but feels rote when reading it in a Rock star memoir. This is how much of the ’80s and ’90s plays out in Who I Am, but hey, that was the guy’s life, clichéd or not. And Pete does skirt cliché by discussing the multitude of women in his life not as sexual conquests but as romantic obsessions. He really seemed to love them. Still, you can’t help but feel terrible for Karen.

Who I Am is not all ugly truths. Pete Townshend has a history of curmudgeonly behavior and putting his foot in his mouth. Having spent more than a decade writing this book, he comes off as more measured and kinder than he has often presented himself in the press. He doesn’t seem to have much bad to say about anyone but himself, which is heartening. There is a lot of love in Who I Am. The “acknowledgements” section of most books is usually inessential. In this one, it rounds out the narrative touchingly, as Pete retraces the major players in his story, tells us what they’re doing now, and expresses his deep feelings for these people. He saves one of his final messages of love for us, the fans. It is brief but beautiful, as well as a somewhat unnecessary gesture since he’d already given us the gift of this intimate and thorough look into his life. Thanks, old friend.

Bonus: the book ends on page 515! Does that qualify as an Easter egg?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: The Criterion edition of Rosemary’s Baby

Along with Psycho and Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby was one of the crucial American horror films of the 1960s. A deeply unsettling and incredibly entertaining film, Roman Polanski’s parental horror is also significant for its attitude about supernatural fear films. It envelops the viewer in sincere terror only to pull back at the last minute to chuckle at all this demonic nonsense from the corner of its fanged maw. Living Dead would become the midnight movie phenomenon in the seventies, but Rosemary’s Baby better established the ironic tone of cult films.

Widely regarded as one of the very best of its genre, Rosemary’s Baby has simply been dying for proper treatment on DVD. Having already produced luxurious discs of Polanski’s Knife in the Water, Repulsion, and Cul-de-sac, Criterion was the natural choice to give Rosemary’s Baby a rebirth. When the company asked Facebook users for suggestions for future releases last year, I voted for Rosemary’s Baby. So naturally, I’m thrilled by Criterion’s new reissue of the film.

Criterion consistently delivers the finest remastering and packaging a film could receive, and Rosemary’s Baby is no different. It sounds and looks pristine while still retaining the earth-toned haze that makes it the perfect late-sixties time capsule. A bonus disc offers a 1997 radio interview with Rosemary’s Baby novelist Ira Levin, a feature-length documentary about jazz artist and soundtrack composer Krzysztof Komeda (featuring Polanski), and most appealing to fans, a 47-minute documentary on the making of the film. New interviews with Polanski, Mia Farrow, and producer Robert Evans carry the doc, which is also interspersed with enticing behind-the-scenes footage of Mia Farrow doing some hippie-ish clowning on set and producer (and thwarted director) William Castle’s cameo. According to Polanski, the original cut of the film was four hours, so it’s too bad deleted scenes weren’t available for this release. But my only real gripe is that the discs do not come out of the case easily. Every time I pulled one out, I was shocked I didn’t snap it in half! That would have been a terrible shame considering how fine these disc are.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: 'Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween'

With a publication date of October 31, Lisa Morton’s Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween is arriving a little late to enjoy this Samhain. That’s too bad, because this study of our favorite holiday is neat seasonal reading. She tracks Halloween from its Celtic roots to its modern place in the cinema, the TV set, and the aisles of Spirit Halloween Stores. Though compact, Trick or Treat presents a satisfying bagful of trivia about the origins of our most enduring seasonal icons (scarecrows, black cats, devils, bats, etc.) and our least enduring (the Halloween horse? Decorations of brown, yellow, and white? Jack-o-Lanterns carved in cucumbers? No thanks!). She also goes deep into the worldwide appropriation of Halloween, as well as tangentially related celebrations such as Guy Fawkes Day and Dias de los Muertos. The book is perhaps a bit too academic for its deliriously fun subject matter, but Morton’s love of the holiday still creeps through.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Diary of the Dead 2012: Week 3

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Monday in October (as was the case last year, I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 15

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976- dir. Nicholas Gessner) **½

An anti-Semitic landlord is trying to force Jodie Foster and her mysteriously absent dad out of their house. The mystery is pretty easy to figure out in the first few minutes of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, so there’s no suspense. Not much horror either. Foster and Martin Sheen as the landlord’s pedophile son are very good, but this flimsy, talky tale adapted from Laird Koenig’s play should have stayed on the stage.

Captive Wild Woman (1942- dir. Edward Dmytryk) *½

Mad doctor John Carradine makes a were-gorilla in this fifth-rate Universal horror. With a half-baked premise yanked from The Island of Dr. Moreau, Captive Wild Woman is mainly a dubious excuse to watch were-cinema’s most racist transformation sequence and footage of circus animals mauling each other that had already appeared in The Big Cage a decade earlier. Plus costumer Vera West should have lost her job for making Evelyn Ankers wear that stupid hat.

October 16

The Giant Claw (1957- dir. Fred F. Sears) **½

A test pilot spots a UFO and planes start falling out of the sky. A classic “War of the Worlds” scenario, you guess? Nope. This isn’t the sort of UFO that’s full of anal probe-armed little green men. It’s the kind that looks like a giant turkey. The Giant Claw does a decent job of establishing an air of mystery, so when we finally see the big bird that is our monster, it feels like the punch line to a joke we didn’t realize was being told. This is one shitty, shitty monster, but once it reveals itself, all you want to do is bask in its magnificent crappiness. So it’s frustrating whenever we return to the human protagonists, even when they’re swapping hilariously awful lines about “atomic spitballs.” The Giant Claw should have been wall-to-wall bird! Still, the time we spend with the “flying nightmare” is to be cherished.

October 17

Beyond Re-Animator (2003- dir. Brian Yuzna) ****

Herbert West has spent thirteen years in the clink since his unholy escapades in Bride of Re-Animator. The brother of one of his monster’s victims is West’s latest protégé, and— guess what?— their experiments go horribly, horribly wrong. Soon everyone in the prison has been monsterized, and that includes the rats. Beyond Re-Animator is a groovy final chapter with great effects (the jawless creature and a sort of living gelatinized man are fabulously grotty creations) and there are plenty of the wacky gags we demand from Re-Animator movies.

I Bury the Living (1958- dir. Arthur Band) ***

Ever since Richard Boone took over the family cemetery business, the plots have been filling up with uncanny speed. Boone fears he’s been causing the deaths by sticking pins in a voodoo map, but the cause is a lot more earthly and predictable. Despite a disappointing ending, I Bury the Living earns points because its bizarre premise is very original, though it might have been better suited to an episode of “The Twilight Zone” than a feature film (particularly if it had played out differently). Director Albert Band’s disorienting camerawork is very cool, but the great makeup artist Jack P. Pierce is wasted here.

October 18

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010- dir. Tod Williams) ***

Paranormal Activity is one of the scariest recent horror movies because of its ambiguity and originality. Yes, the found footage gimmick had been pretty well exploited in the ten years following The Blair Witch Project, but Oren Peli’s film was the first with the bright idea of moving the horror into the home. The first sequel in what is now a franchise is less effective for several reasons. It loses realism by casting familiar character actress Sprague Grayden in a lead role, and it loses ambiguity by getting further into the Featherston family’s demonic history. The big twist? Great Grandma Featherston may have made a deal with the devil so her great grandson-in-law could become—steel yourself—the Burger King. Oh boy. Still, as far as exploitative retreads go, Paranormal Activity 2 is entertaining enough and even manages a couple of good jolts. It also boggles the formula a little by setting the first one in daylight, though we have to wait an hour for it. Cheap jump scares are no substitute for the original’s insidious dread.

October 19

Homicidal (1961- dir. William Castle) ***½

William Castle jumps on the Psycho gravy train and pulls the neat trick of combining Norman Bates and Marion Crane into a single character. Castle does his darnedest to maintain the ruse, but it’s tough to not figure out where the story’s heading. Of course, Castle is always more about style than story, and as usual, his style is an ace blend of legit technique, B-cheese, and almost accidental creepiness. Homicidal was the last in Castle’s streak of terrific pictures begun with House on Haunted Hill. After this his inspiration dried up with a lame remake of The Old Dark House.

October 20

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011- dir. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) ***

In Paranormal Activity 3 we travel back to 1988 when the Featherston sisters were little girls and their grandma was mixing and mingling with the devil. In contrast to the somewhat lethargic second part, the jumps, jolts, bangs, and shadows are nearly non-stop in part three. This picture is something the original most certainly wasn’t: a cheap (as opposed to inexpensively produced), special effects-flaunting fun house ride. It’s a pretty good one: dumber than part two, but a little scarier. The rotating camera is a nice touch, but everyone except the babysitter looks like a 2011 hipster in this ’80s period piece. Could’ve used more hairspray.

The Headless Horseman or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1922- dir. Edward D. Venturini) ***

This early version of Washington’s Irving’s timeless ghost story isn’t bad, with Will Rogers doing decent comic work as Ichabod Crane, and there’s a hilarious sequence in which parishioners keep falling asleep during a preacher’s long-winded sermon. Yet even at a mere 70 minutes, it exemplifies how “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” simply doesn’t lend itself to feature-length adaptation. The original story is too perfect to be expanded and rewritten, as it was in Tim Burton’s infuriating version, and it’s too simple to be treated faithfully without becoming tedious, as Edward Venturini’s film often is. Way too much time is spent with Ichabod’s students. The entirety of “Danse Macabre” played on the soundtrack during the psalmody lesson scene alone! The horseman is no great shakes either. In his unintentionally funny first appearance, he has noticeable difficulty mounting his steed. Some horseman! When his identity is revealed after the climactic chase, the climax is rendered completely anticlimactic.  Disney’s animated short is still the greatest version by several miles.

October 20

Creepshow 2 (1987- dir. Michael Gornick) **

Lazy, witless sequel to George Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 portmanteau, which wasn’t so great to begin with. The opening segment about a vengeful wooden Indian is completely clueless about its own racism. The second episode is about a killer puddle of Castrol. It’s scarier than it sounds, which isn’t saying much since it doesn’t sound scary at all. In the finale, a woman is dogged by a hitchhiker she ran down while driving home from a date with a man whore. The one saving grace is the fun animated wraparound, which pays tribute to the great horror comics of the ’50s.

The Moth Diaries (2011- dir. Mary Harron) **

Mary Harron cashes in on the teen vampire craze with The Moth Diaries. It isn't as pea-brained as Twilight (what is?), but its glum self-seriousness is tiresome and its postmodernism isn't terribly clever. Harron is a good filmmaker, but there is no evidence of her skill in this movie. And though a film about teenagers doesn't just have to be for teenagers, The Moth Diaries is not a movie for adults. Outsider kids might like it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Monsterology: The Lugosi Vampire

In this ongoing feature on Psychobabble, we’ve been looking at the history of Horror’s archetypal monsters.

“I bid you… velcome…”

Suave and imposing and dapperly attired in evening wear, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was a far more explicit link between sex and death than any movie monster before him. His portrayal is often pinpointed as ground zero for our modern conception of the vampire, the one that sexily sexes up teenage girls in books written just for teenage girls (they weren’t made for you grown ups, so stop reading them!). As described by Stoker, Dracula was certainly sexual (if being breast-fed blood by a man is your idea of sexy), but physically, he was pretty grotty. Stoker’s Dracula was a gaunt, dome-headed creep with a unibrow, “rank” breath, and hairy palms (sexy!). While Lugosi may not make girls who swoon over Robert Pattinson pee their pants, he was in his day, quite the heartthrob. Tall, dark, European, and bearing an undeniable charisma, he even caught The It Girl in his thrall, enjoying a brief affair with Clara Bow after she saw him own the stage in Horace Liveright’s production of Dracula.

Lugosi was keen to keep his refined features unobstructed by fangs or furry applications when he brought his vampire to the screen for Universal. Film historians love to speculate about how Dracula might have looked had Lon Chaney lived long enough to portray him. They often imagine a count more along the lines of the terrifying pseudo-vamp Chaney played in London After Midnight, with his buggy eyes and razor teeth. Maybe he would have looked something like Max Schreck’s even scarier bald, rat-like count in Nosferatu. Or maybe Chaney would have gone to the source text and based his creature on Stoker’s hairy-palmed menace. Driven by vanity— and perhaps unconsciously recognizing a powerful image when he created one— Lugosi would have none of this. Lugosi’s Dracula just looked like Lugosi, not even sporting the exaggerated widow’s peak he’d wear in Mark of the Vampire, the 1935 remake of London After Midnight.

Following Nosferatu and London After Midnight, Lugosi’s Dracula must have seemed like a radical rewrite of the vampire. However, there had been dashing, even beautiful, vampires even before Stoker’s novel was published in 1897. The genre’s first significant fiction was Dr. John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819). Dr. John began his story at that same fateful Swiss getaway that saw Mary Shelley conceive Frankenstein. Despite a ghastly pallor, the “form and outline” of Lord Ruthven’s face are “beautiful” and “many of the female hunters… attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection…”  The cutesy-pie named Varney in James Malcom Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1847)—with his “dreadful eyes,” “horrible” face, and “hideous” teeth— was more akin to the creature Stoker would create, but the title character of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1871) was “pretty, even beautiful,” and up for some lesbian action intended to titillate readers also invited to condemn her “unnatural” desires; that way everyone could get their rocks off while still feeling morally superior.

Lugosi was not the first good-looking, sexually attractive vampire, but he refined the vampire concept so powerfully and pervasively that he nearly negated the very option that these creatures could be anything less than Playgirl-ready. The ugly vampires of cinema future usually paid explicit homage to Max Schreck (Reggie Nalder’s Kurt Barlow in Salem’s Lot, Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht). More commonly, we could expect super hunks like Christopher Lee, Louis Jordan, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman to don the cape. Perhaps Anne Rice put the final nail in the ugly count’s coffin, opening the crypt door for Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to take vampire attractiveness to absurd extremes in Interview with the Vampire, and paving the Borgo Pass for Robert Pattinson’s dreamy-weamy Eddie “Munster” Cullen in Twilight.

So should Lugosi be praised or condemned for so assuredly re-vamping the vampire for generations to come? Well, it is what it is, and maybe sexing up the vamp is not even his greatest crime, for he is responsible—unintentionally, of course—for thick, Hungarian accents intoning “I vant to suck your blaahd!” or simply “Blah!” or other such nonsense that appears nowhere in Tod Browning’s film. Without Lugosi, there would be no Groovie Goolie Drac, no Count von Count (“Von bat! Tooo bats! Ha, ha, ha!”), no Count Chocula (“Vith chocolate flavored sweeties!”), and no Count Blah (“Blah!”).

Yet Dracula, has not suffered by such parodies. Only Sherlock Holmes rivals him as the character most often depicted on screen. The count remains un-alive and well in the 21st century, goofing around in the current cartoon Hotel Transylvania and ready to re-sex y’all as embodied by sexy sexer Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a T.V. series slated to air on NBC next year. While the timelessness of Stoker’s novel must take some credit, Lugosi’s equally timeless portrayal of Dracula is just as responsible for the character’s unbelievable longevity. That’s quite a supernatural achievement.

Bela Lugosi was born 130 years ago today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: 'Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard'

Part oral history, part coffee table photo book, Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard is all awesome. Writer Matt Taylor and memorabilia maven Jim Beller assembled a lush tribute to the sharky blockbuster busting with recollections from the Martha’s Vineyard locals who appeared before and behind the camera and a slew of amazing archival materials. There’s a current shot of the somewhat desiccated bust of Ben Gardener that made movie goers toss their popcorn and their cookies in 1975 and an even more incredible biography of Gardener-portrayer Craig Kingsbury, a guy once arrested for drunk driving an ox cart. His defense against the charges is both rational and hilarious. Indeed, Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard is a really funny book because the Martha’s Vineyard crowd is such a colorful bunch and the production was wrought with disasters that can only be portrayed comically in the hindsight of Jaws’ phenomenal success. Plus, there’s a photo of the real Mary Ellen Moffet! She broke my heart.

Originally published in 2011, Titan Books has just released the second edition of Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard with an additional sixteen pages of great stuff. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Diary of the Dead 2012: Week 2

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Monday in October (as was the case last year, I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 8

The Funhouse (1981- dir. Tobe Hooper) **

Some kids hide out in a funhouse overnight to screw around, and a monster in a Frankenstein mask stalks them. I was always under the impression The Funhouse was a slasher movie. I usually don’t like slasher movies, which is why it took me so long to get around to seeing this beloved flick. It’s really more of a gore-free monster movie (can we agree the killer is way too monstrous to consider a disfigured human?). The distastefully sleazy attitude is pure slasher, though. I prefer fun sleazy, like a John Waters movie. There just isn’t enough fun in this funhouse. It’s also way too slow for a movie with characters this uninteresting. Just kill them and get it over with already! Sheesh.

October 9

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000- dir. Joe Berlinger) **

I confess to mild curiosity about the infamously awful Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, partially because I love the original, partially because following up that unique and genuinely terrifying picture with a run-of-the-mill horror movie is such an awful idea. And who doesn’t love watching a disaster? The prologue shares some of the DIY aesthetic of The Blair Witch Project, even as it plays as a dumb commercial for that movie. The rest of Book of Shadows looks more like I Know What You Did Last Summer. Some idiot Blair Witch Project fans go into the woods, have idiotic discussions about the movie, and go crazy. Idiotically. The implication that all of their drinking, drugging, and sexing leads to murder is stock slasher movie bullshit. The rampant post modernism is a lame substitute for actual wit. Too non-descript to qualify as a truly bad movie, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 isn’t even good for a laugh. Watch Troll 2 instead.

October 10

It (1990- dir. Tommy Lee Wallace) ***½

Stephen King’s greatest novel is a brick-thick epic about a shape-shifting, generation-spanning evil. Adapting It as a TV miniseries isn’t the most complimentary treatment, but as far as those things go, it isn’t bad. In fact, Tim Curry is downright unforgettable as Penny Wise the Dancing Clown, the evil’s favorite form. We meet The Losers Club, a band of heroes who go toe to toe with It, as kids and adults. It has often been said that the kids’ portion of the film is the most compelling, and that’s no lie. The adult cast is OK, but the “Circus of the Stars” aftertaste is a bit distracting (See John Ritter from “Three’s Company”! See Harry Anderson from “Night Court”! See John Boy and Venus Flytrap too!). The production values can be chintzy, which isn’t much of a problem until the spidery showdown that ends the three hours like a wet fart. Still, the kids are fun, Curry is a gas, and on a more personal note, this is the flick that got me hooked on Stephen King novels when I was a teenager. For that, I’ll always be extra forgiving of It and award it an extra half star. Extra points for cutting the whole kiddie orgy in the sewer sequence. Ick.

October 11

Lifeforce (1985- dir. Tobe Hooper) **½

A naked space vampire stalks London. Mayhem and pubic hair ensue. Lifeforce is like The Thing remade by Bob Guccione. Tobe Hooper takes this material too seriously, so what could have been a ridiculous hoot ends up just plain ridiculous. As is so often the case, lots of nudity goes hand-in-hand with a really uptight attitude about sex. Maybe it’s more like The Thing remade by General Ripper from Dr. Strangelove. Gotta deny that lady vampire your essence, fellas! I liked the corpse puppets though.

October 12

Slither (2006- dir. James Gunn) ****

You know how you always wanted to watch a bunch of gun-toting yahoos face off against a swarm of tongues from outer space? Well, it may have been a long wait, but Slither finally arrived in 2006. Ex-Troma member James Gunn turned in a nerdy homage seemingly inspired by Shaun of the Dead’s union of graphic gore and ironic humor, though it is more horrifying and less funny than Shaun. Whereas Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s movie used Romero’s zombie pictures as its chief reference, Slither draws on zombie movies and the classic B-grade sci-fi chillers of the ‘50s. That’s value. Plus, there’s a great cast anchored by Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” Rooker.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: 'The Art of Punk'

The nasty, nasty punk aesthetic gets an incongruously attractive presentation in Russ Bestley and Alex Ogg’s new book The Art of Punk. The writers, given to waxing academic about a bunch of righteous screaming and guitar punishing, do their best work as interviewers of such scene-defining visual artists as Mick Farren of The Deviants, John Holmstrom of Punk magazine, Ramones crony Arturo Vega, and Jamie Reed, whose work for The Sex Pistols solidified the look of punk like no other. Bestley and Ogg are also ace image compilers, largely striding past the most well known album covers, flyers, ’zines, and posters to present a richer picture of the punk era from those primordial days when the MC5 first crawled out of the muck to the more recent days of Germ Attak and The Gaggers. While our faves The Clash, The Damned, The Ramones, etc. are all represented, The Art of Punk most fascinates when flying internationally to show how punk imagery manifested in Australia and New Zealand, where striking line drawings were prominent, and Germany, where Nazi symbolism was still disturbingly in play. Bestley and Ogg certainly don’t shy from the most offensive images punk had to offer, but for better or worse, that stuff is a very real part of the genre’s long history of rankling the masses. The Art of Punk’s inclusiveness makes it as essential a representation of the genre’s look as Leave Home or Another Music in a Different Kitchen represent its sound.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Diary of the Dead 2012: Week 1

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Monday in October (as was the case last year, I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

 September 29

Thinner (1996- dir. Tom Holland) **½

Entertainingly bad Stephen King (oops, I mean “Richard Bachman”) novel becomes entertainingly bad Tom Holland movie. Holland directed some good movies (Psycho II, Child’s Play), but this isn’t one of them. An old gypsy stereotype curses a big-boned chap with unceasing weight loss after he accidentally runs over her daughter while getting a blowjob. The fat prosthetics make actor Robert John Burke look like Jiminy Glick. The skinny prosthetics misguidedly attempt to make Burke look skeletal by building up his features, so he looks just as fat when he’s supposed to be thinner. Still, Thinner is fast paced, there are a couple of effective gross-outs, and the lousy acting is campy fun. Plenty of material for a home session of Mystery Science Theater 3000

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