Oct
22

Confessions of a Horror Lightweight

I have often derided myself as a “lightweight” when it comes to horror movies.  

Many people talk about how horror movies are fun because they let you get frightened in a safe environment.  You get all the fun stuff without any real danger.  And this makes a lot of sense to me.

But I’m one of those people who gets deeply immersed in the virtual world when I’m watching a movie.  On some level, I become part of that world, and I forget that it isn’t real.  Brutal violence leaves me profoundly shaken and it takes me a while to pull myself together afterward.

Lots of gore, body horror, intense personal violence — these things are just not my speed.  I barely made it through the original Evil Dead.  The original Dawn of the Dead left me shaken and weeping.  I had to bail on Hellraiser and Blade II.  I don’t even want to think about the Saw movies.

There are few movies out there which bring enough other valuable stuff to make the distress worthwhile.  A Clockwork Orange and Pan’s Labyrinth come to mind; and I’ve still only been able to watch them once.

But all of that doesn’t mean that I dislike horror movies.  Far from it!

Monster movies, kaiju, the work of studios like Universal in the 1930s through the 1960s, Hammer, Amicus — I love that stuff!  I relish the creepy, the occasionally gruesome, the mysterious, the atmospheric.

If the violence is restrained, or just unrealistic enough that I can abstract myself and remember that what I am seeing is imaginary, then I can get frightened, creeped out, even excited by the possibilities of a mysterious and supernatural world.

I spent several very key years of my childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area and spending my late Friday and Saturday nights watching Creature Features.  It was the late 1970s, and things were quite different from the way they are now:

There was only one “Star Wars” movie.  It was called Star Wars.

Home video games were limited to the brand-new Atari 2600, which with a price tag of over $800 in today’s money, was a toy for the well-off.

It was more or less accepted that smoking was bad for you, but most people did it anyway and it was legal just about everywhere.

Home video recorders didn’t exist.  If you wanted to watch a TV show, you had to plant yourself in front of the set when that show was on.  And you’d better hope no one else in the house wanted to watch something on another channel.  Most folks had only one TV set in the house.

During that time, I often spent Saturday staying over at my best friend’s house.  Sometimes we’d swim in her pool.  Other times we’d play games on the Atari, which I was terrible at.  (Some things don’t change.)  We also played with our Barbie dolls, making up stories that were much more befitting the movies we’d be watching later than the usual clothes, cars and glam stuff.

After dinner, we’d make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, finishing up with one giant cookie each, and took that still warm and gooey treat into the den and settled in to watch Creature Features.

We’d get the tail end of The 10 O’Clock News.  And then came the funky theme music and the decidedly un-funky host, Bob Wilkins.  Unlike many horror hosts, he didn’t go in for costume or schtick, but simply sat in his chair in a spooky old house set, smoking a cigar and telling us a little about the movie we were about to see.

As often as not, he’d caution us that we’d best not expect much.  I don’t remember ever being put off, though.

Our favorites were the Godzilla movies.  We’d make up Godzilla’s dialogue, our own translations of what everyone’s favorite giant radioactive lizard was saying with those weird roars.  Those roars have echoed down through the years and informed a lot of my taste in movies.

Come to think, Godzilla movies (along with You Only Live Twice) were probably my introduction to Japan and Japanese culture, giving me a curiosity which blossomed into full blown fascination when I discovered anime almost a decade later.

We saw lots of other movies on Creature Features too.  Universal monster movies, spooky haunted house flicks, William Castle weirdness, goodness knows what else.  I might have even seen Night of the Living Dead there, although I doubt I made it through the whole thing.

Or maybe I did, and that’s why the movie disturbs me so much to this day.  Who can say?  I certainly can’t.

I probably saw my first Hammer films on Creature Features too, but my strongest memory of a Hammer film comes from the fall of 1984.

I was alone in a college dorm TV room, stitching trim on a cape and watching a movie with the (as it seemed to me at the time) outlandish title of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.  Outlandish or not, that movie ended up having a lot of influence on my writing, and still does.

Now that I’ve shared my background, I’d like to contribute more to this blog.  I’ll be offering my takes on some old favorites and new discoveries.  I hope to share an “old school” perspective, and maybe even show how “lightweight” can be exciting, appealing and fun.  

After all, getting a broader perspective can’t hurt — especially when you have to look over your shoulder or into the dark.

Comments: 0
Written: Oct 22, 2015
Sep
10

Zombie Hellhouse By The Side of Cemetery That Dr Freakstein Got All Weird In

For fuck’s sake.  It’s been a year.

I said I was going to keep up, but I didn’t.  Look, it’s just been fucking chaos.  Some good, all sorts of bad.  Even a fracture.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’re trying to keep the faith.  Today, I offer proof. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written: Sep 10, 2015
Mar
24

These Would’ve Been The Voyages

Being an info junkie can be a real drag, y’know?  I subscribe to zillions of mailing lists and online newsletters.  Sometimes I even read them.

Out of the swarm I got this morning, this popped out at me.  Remember back in the 80’s, when there were rumours of a Star Trek movie about Kirk and Spock as teenagers in Starfleet Academy?  Remember all the groans and trash talk over it?  It turns out that Ain’t It Cool News has found the script for that project.  And according to them, it’s not as bad as everybody thought.  Beam down a landing party and check it out.

Comments: 0
Written: Mar 24, 2006
Mar
6

And the Oscars are ignored by…

Oscar Ratings Drop 8 Percent From 2005

That’s all?!  Jeez, we’re slipping.  Remind me to care even less….

Comments: 0
Written: Mar 6, 2006
Jan
1

Masters of Horror marathon tonight

Every other channel on the dial does a TV show marathon of some kind around New Year’s. Twilight Zone marathons seem to be the popular…even when the episodes get chopped to bits.

Showtime is doing one of its own, running the first eight installments of the 13-part Masters of Horror series.  Later, around March 2006, episodes will be released on DVD individually and in low-priced bundles.

So here am I, providing what could be called a public service, putting my two cents on the episodes to date.  If you have Showtime and feel like ringing out the year with a fright-fest, you’ll get a better idea of what to expect.  If you’re curious about the DVD’s or individual episodes, maybe I can help point out the ones you might want to spend your money on.  Ain’t I helpful?

“Incident On and Off A Mountain Road”
The series opener is a real gem courtesy of director Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep fame) and award-winning writer Joe R. Lansdale.  This is a bloody, disturbing tale about a woman lost in the woods and fighting for her life on several levels.  A great start.

“Dreams in the Witch-House”
Director Stuart Gordon brought in a new adaptation of a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale, something he has done several times in the past.  Like his earlier films Re-Animator and From Beyond, this installment bears little resemblance to the source.  Gordon skips the existential dread and delivers instead some gore with a side order of T & A…in other words, what he usually does.  The result is entertaining and predictable, just not compelling.

“Dance of the Dead”
Tobe Hooper, the man who brought you Poltergeist and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, puts the series back on track.  Richard Christian Matheson adapted this post-apocalyptic rocker from his ingenious father‘s works.  This is a keeper, a sinuous creepshow which, I suspect, contains a parable about pimping flesh.  Not for the faint of heart.

“Jenifer”
Director Dario Argento of Suspiria fame helmed this sleeper to shore.  This ep is gory, surprisingly predictable story about a clueless cop and the female creature he rescues, brings into his home, and eventually regrets ever doing either.  I tried to like this one.  Never a good sign, is it?

“Chocolate”
Series creator Mick Garris adapted one of his own stories for this ep.  It’s intended as a sexy, eerie thriller about a man who experiences a beautiful woman’s life through her five senses.  Henry Thomas and Matt Frewer give it their all.  And yet the show falls flat.  Credit could be given to Mick Garris for adapting a basically internal story to the screen, but it lacked personality.  Matt Frewer’s supporting role had more definition than even the main characters.  And for such an intimate tale, that’s a mistake.

“Homecoming”
The series bounces back with an incisive political satire courtesy of director Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling) and screenwriter Sam Hamm (the 1989 Batman).  Soldiers killed in the war return undead and trigger controversy for the pro-Bush set.  In a brilliant fashion, this one turns the whole zombie idea on its head.  Some blood, but no gore to speak of.  Actually this is the most accessible to mainstream audiences.  But then what if you put on a satire and nobody came?

“Deer Woman”
Director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) submits for our approval a moody, off-the-wall supernatural thriller featuring a down ‘n’ out cop and a series of impossible murders in a small town.   I still have issues with the director, so I didn’t expect to like this ep.  But it’s a deft mix of comedy, horror, and painful memories.  Landis works in references to his own work, verging on the edge of sheer corn, teetering on self-recrimination.  If the result isn’t gold, it’s at least a smoky gem.

“Cigarette Burns”
This is a Grand Guignol treasure directed by John Carpenter (Halloween), written by Scott Swan and Drew McWeeny (aka Moriarty of Ain’t It Cool News).  A broken-hearted movie expert is hired to find an obscure art film whose only public showing ended in bloody violence.  Horrifying.  Thought-provoking.  Easily, a high point in the series.  Not for the weak.

If you collect or rent the DVDs to come, I recommend:

  • “Incident On and Off A Mountain Road”
  • “Dance of the Dead”
  • “Homecoming”
  • “Deer Woman”
  • “Cigarette Burns”
Comments: 0
Written: Jan 1, 2006
Oct
29

References in “Shaun of the Dead”

Chattling online with friends a few weeks ago, the topic of horror films came up.   One of the few modern ones that we all agreed on was “Shaun of the Dead.”   People who normally don’t like gore flicks, like everyone else in the chat room that night, glommed onto this one.
Naturally I was the only one to get half of the references to other horror flicks.  Partly for laughs, I offered to write up a list so everyone else didn’t have to watch the other films and risk getting sick.  And then curiosity became growing interest.

Besides, I wanted to do a Halloween kind of blog entry anyway.

Disclaimer a la mode:  This is just a compilation, probably not a complete one at that.  I make no claims on the data beyond my fairly reasonable certainty about accuracy.  I tried to double- and triple-source where I could.   If I couldn’t find something else to support it, I left it out to be safe.

My key sources were the audio commentaries on the Shaun of the Dead DVD, the Internet Movie Database, the Easter Egg Archive, and good ol’ Wikipedia.

I did my best to put this into order of appearance in the film.  I figured fans tend to fall down when you don’t put things in chronological order. (Incidentally, sorry if it’s messy or rushed. I twisted my ankle the other night, so I’m hobbling all over the place trying to get things done.)

* The music playing over the company logos is library music selected for the airport scenes in the original Dawn of the Dead.

* The ska number playing as we first see Shaun (Simon Pegg) is “Ghost Town” by the Specials.

* The title sequence, intentionally or not, touches on a recurring theme in George Romero‘s Living Dead movies, of the working classes reduced to a mindless automated state.

* Shaun’s lumbering, half-awake entrance after the titles is a nod to the final scene in “Day of the Dead.”

* The game that Ed and Shaun are playing is “Timesplitters2.”

* The game voice announcing incoming/outgoing players is actually that of Peter Serafinowicz (Pete).

* Gratutious fanboy trivia (what, like the rest of it isn’t?):  Peter Serafinowicz is more widely known as the voice of Darth Maul.

* The shock-cut montages are reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies.

* On his way to the corner shop in the morning, Shaun walks by a road sweeper.  Its radio is tuned to a news bulletin about the Omega-6 space probe exploding in the atmosphere.  This is one of the theories offered in “Night of the Living Dead.”

* Bub’s Pizzas, next door to the corner shop, is named after the trainable zombie in “Day of the Dead.”

* Foree Electronics is named for Ken Foree, one of the actors in the original “Dawn of the Dead” (1978).

* The music heard while Shaun is taking the bus to work is “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation.

* Shaun tells his co-workers that Ash isn’t coming in, a reference to Bruce Campbell‘s role in the Evil Dead movies.

* Director Edgar Wright took inspiration from the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” especially for strange business going in the background of an otherwise normal scene.

* Fulci’s Restaurant is named for Italian horror director Lucio Fulci, best known for his own zombie movies.

* When Shaun leaves the bloodied corner shop, the news report on the radio is apparently saying in Hindi either “The dead are coming back to life,” or “People are waking up from their graves.”

* Mary, the first zombie to attack Shaun, worked at the Landis Supermarket, a nod to director John Landis.

* A poster for the controversial Japanese film of “Battle Royale” can be seen while Ed and Shaun fend off the one-armed zombie.

* Of course the TV reporter’s advice for would-be zombie slayers is taken from “Night of the Living Dead”.

* Ed’s line “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!” echoes a line from “Night of the Living Dead.”  Ironically George Romero himself didn’t get the reference.

* The music under the montages for Shaun’s plans is “Zombi” by Goblin, composed for the original Dawn of the Dead.

* Shaun tells Ed not to say “the zed word.”  In fact most, if any, zombie movies don’t.  This is also considered a nod to director Danny Boyle, who pointed out “28 Days Later” is not a zombie movie.  (If you say so, Danny boy….)

* Shaun’s muttering of “Join us” touches back on the undead creatures in the Evil Dead movies.

* One of the flower prints in Liz’s apartment was done by Fred Deakin from Airside and Lemon Jelly.  He also designed the “Battle Royale” poster in Shaun’s flat.

* Shaun’s jump from a trampoline is often compared to the final scene of “Army of Darkness.”

* The pool cue battle is often compared to the surreal scenes of gang violence in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.”

* David’s death scene closely resembles the death of an antagonist in “Day of the Dead.”

* The characters’ retreat into the basement calls back to “Night of the Living Dead.”

* An elevator platform figures prominently in the film’s climax and that of “Day of the Dead.”

* Co-writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright compared several scenes to “Doctor Who,” especially the soldiers’ charge and attack in the climax.  “Doctor Who” was also shot at Ealing Studios, the same as this film.

* The interrupted news item about infected monkeys is a dig at Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later.”  Director Edgar Wright did the voice work for the segment.

* The music at the very end of the credits is “The Gonk,”  written by Herbert Chappell for the DeWolfe Music Library.  That track was used as Muzak for a zombie-infested mall in the original “Dawn of the Dead.”

Comments: 0
Written: Oct 29, 2005
May
5

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Bamf…sorry for disappearing.

As I’ve said elsewhere, work and illness conspired to eat up what little free time I had left for the last month or so.  It got kind of daunting after a while.  Writing—doing—anything, anything at all has been a physical drain.  It’s getting better.  At least now it doesn’t involve as much caffeine to bluff the flesh and spirit.  Each forward lurch becomes less half-hearted.  Eh.  Whaddaya do?

Speaking of half-hearted, this li’l entry probably won’t be too coherent.  I’ve got a few points, so I’ll be jumping all over the place.

Weather

While the supposedly liberal media lauds the virtues of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, the weather is getting strange out here in the real world.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s dry as a bone, pushing the mercury up to the 75-degree Fahrenheit mark.  Down south in California, it’s raining to the point of flooding.  North and south, glaciers and the polar icecaps are getting smaller.  Melting.

I’m on a marginally regular basis with several people across the country; my wife, with several more people worldwide.  Why are so many people complaining about how weird the weather has been?  It seems as if everyone’s climate is acting screwy.  Granted, anecdotal evidence isn’t entirely useful.  And yet there is a great preponderance of said evidence.

If there’s no such thing as global warming, what the hell’s going on with the weather?

I’ve stumbled on a few reviews and articles that shed light on Crichton’s latest, but this line from David Roberts’ review at Grist Magazine makes a telling point:

But what’s the reality at the core of State of Fear? Crichton’s not asking
us to believe that environmentalists really run a ruthless transnational
cabal, of course. But he is asking us to believe something more fanciful:
that in the real world, they have engineered a global scientific and
political consensus on climate change without one.

Two Girls in Need of Lemons

You’d have to see the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie to follow my meaning.

Jamie and I went to see it last night.  We have to watch it again.  Not because we liked it.  I mean, we did.  But the whole experience was ruined for us—for everyone else in the theater, for that matter.

Except for two girls.

Well, they sounded like girls.  Giggling, immature, cute in voice if not in conduct, jailbait girls.  Jamie told me (and now you) that only one of them was.  The other one was a grown woman.  I didn’t look.

Much as I try not to contradict my esteemed freckly better half, I must in this case.  Girl #2 might have looked Jamie’s age, but I’m judging it was a girl, an immature female, based on existential instead of phenomenological evidence.  In other words, the airhead sounded too vacuous to be a grown-up.

Anyway, a few rows behind us, at our four o’clock, two girls yakked through the trailers.  Through all three “please silence your cellphone” signs.  Through the whole damn movie.

When a trailer for a new movie about Herbie, the precocious sentient VW Bug that won’t fraggin’ die, was blasting past us, one of them bubbled, “Oh, I love Herbie!”  When a Vogan construction fleet comes to Earth with bureaucratic tidings of steaming hot doom, one of them giggled, “Yup, there’s the Vogons!”  When Marvin made his first appearance, they blurted out, “Marvin!”  Apparently they expected their amygdala-deficient ardor was going to make him wave or something.  At the sight of dolphins, one of them squealed, “Ooh, the dolphins are coming back!  Yay, dolphins!”

As I’d said before, I didn’t look.  Stopping myself from turning and making eye contact was the only way to keep myself from leaping out of my chair and eating their flesh.  I mean, that would’ve been the sensible thing to do, isn’t it?  So there I was, trying to leave such thoughts where they belong.

At work.

Clearly, these girls were convinced that they and they alone were capable of enjoying Douglas Adams’ master work properly.  They prided themselves on knowing the story, knowing where everything in it went, and knowing their knowing that they knew.  In the presence of such sagacity, only a heat-stricken wombat would fail to gouge out its eyes and wail in reverence.

And yet these Hitchhiker mavens didn’t sigh or cheer or praise God for answering that one teeny prayer when “Journey of the Sorcerer” made a triumphant entrance.  They didn’t seem to recognize the original Marvin or the original Arthur Dent when they appeared.  They didn’t wail when Douglas Adams’ face appeared in a semi-subliminal flash.  And they didn’t seem at all aware that some of us were Hitchhiker fans back when it was just a radio show, whose hearts broke when Adams died, who brandished our towels proudly in his memory a year later, and that we’ve been waiting for only 20 bloody years to see this movie.

A ten-year-old boy was also there.  He didn’t say a word.  He made them look stupid.  A gaming console wasn’t even involved.

Girls, word to the unwise.  Nobody in that theater thought you were cool froods who knew where their towels were.  But we did think you were morons.  Several minus billion for being rude, self-absorbed little twits.  j00 F4Il.

Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

            He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot,
but don’t let that fool you.  He really is an idiot.
—Groucho Marx

If you’ve been following my little bloggy rantings, you might remember a few mentions to the neocon mouthpiece Mark Levin.  Wretched little man, sort of like the opposite of a TARDIS.  Big on the outside, really small on the inside, goes absolutely nowhere…unless UN black helicopter territory is considered somewhere.

I was following his show for Media Matters for America for a while, but technical difficulties got in the way for a while.  When I wasn’t able to get captures of his radio show, I figured I could just leave him behind.  He was a big fish in a little pond out on the east coast, I thought.  He’s not like the Pope or Mitch Hedberg, somebody who’s been everywhere and left a positive mark on the world, however small.  I told myself he was best forgotten.

No such luck.  Here’s another far right wingnut with a book out.  This one is a collection of screeds pushing the myth of judicial activism, of liberals making law from the bench.

He can argue his way out of a wet paper bag, sure—but he needs fangs to do it.  His arguments stand up to the light of neither sun nor moon.  Heaven help him in the event of an eclipse.  Without cheap shots, name-calling, or factual distortion, he’d have nothing.  His answer to any caller he disagrees with, “Get off the phone, you big dope!”  When cornered, the best retort he can unload on a worthy opponent is, “Who cares?!”  His witticisms are limited to elementary school scatology and sound board buttons.  His answer to the first anniversary of the breaking of the Abu Ghraib story is singing along with the holiday song parody “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear.”  His ethical and empathic muscles have atrophied.  They work only for call-in sycophants.

He has fans that worship him, people who think ad hominem attacks on his opponents make him a hero and a genius.  There’s the slimmest of chances they might find this single lame-ass blog post on a Google quest.  I doubt it, but they get seriously, painfully, mortally wounded by any slight against their guy.  I can only assume it really hurts them because they get really mad about it, wherever and whoever the source of that slight.  Anyone who fails to squint at the brilliance of their golden idol is called names.  “We called that lib ‘jerk,’ ‘moonbat,’ and ‘loser.’  Then we nailed him on his typos.  That’ll show ‘im.”

Stuff like this used to depress me; to think, grown men and women resort to playground epithets and blind worship to feel good about themselves.  Now it’s just sadly amusing.  They’ve glommed onto the biggest, loudest bully on the block, offering their lunch money, their thinking, and their sycophancy to him just so that nobody else beats them up.  There’s no real concern for America’s future going on.  If someone is reduced to poverty, if a woman is beaten, if a dark-skinned man is tortured, if a child is made into a sexual slave, they don’t make a move.  But if their hero comes yelling into their homes, warning them about an evil conspiracy, they’ll call in and love him to death.

I guess I see the benefits.  It’s easier than hearing out a contrary view.  Easier than actually doing something.  giving someone a sandwich.  Easier than seeing a common darkness within themselves, something we all share.  Easier than holding a kid’s hand.   Instead they dismiss an electrocuted sand N1Gg3R with mockery and laughter, then sacrifice their compassion and their minds to a demagogue, all because they’re afraid of the world.  Poor things.

If they ever bother to approach a cosmic nobody like me, I’ll try not to laugh, I swear.

***

Let’s not end on a dark note, hm?  (For once.)

A quick shoutout to some nice folks.  First, my old friend Frank Shaw in San Jose.  I haven’t buzzed him in, like, a century.  But I think about you and Jeong Hee all the time.  The Mars Attacks! flying saucer toy helps.  Brrr-zap brr-zap!  Ack, ack ACK!  Ack ack!

Second, for my next trick, I’m gonna suck up to a fan.  Maybe not a fan, but it’s nice to know I have a few supporters.  And no money exchanged hands or anything, either.

A couple of months ago, I got an e-mail from a kind lady named Jessica who was wondering where I’d gone to.  She’d read the stuff on my old Blogger account, but lost track of me.  The way I flitted across two or three blogging services, it was bound to happen to someone.  She tracked me down to the Afterhell website.  Apparently that wasn’t enough to run screaming.   Anyway, I brought her up to date and sent her links to my other blogs.

Now, whenever I get burned out or frustrated, I sneak another look at her e-mail.  I try not to care what people think.  It’s a dangerous thing, especially for folks with pretenses toward art, truth, or individuality.  But it’s good to get some positive feedback, a little support, some warm human contact.

And one thing about e-mail:  You don’t have to worry about finding mysterious strands of long red hair in it.  I just don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

I’ll explain later.  Nightie night.   [thud]

Comments: 0
Written: May 5, 2005
Apr
15

Slumming

People have called me weird all my life. I might have stumbled on further proof.

Like most couples at the end of the workday, yesterday my wife Jamie and I said our hellos and brought each other up to date on what happened to them earlier in the day. She told me about meetings, moving to a new cube, e-mail and memo exchanged re weekly reports. So what did I do that afternoon, she asked. I watched “Freddy vs. Jason” and offered my thoughts.

Boy, am I weird….

I blew off the movie for a long time. I’m into horror these days (in case you couldn’t tell), but I don’t have patience for most horror movie fare. Out of morbid curiosity, I’ve taken occasional glances at the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” franchises. Rolled my eyes. And moved on. In the end, curiosity got the better of my judgement. As usual.

My rationalization for checking out drivel of any kind often involves some combination of the following:

A) It doesn’t cost me anything to try.
B) A snap judgement means very little, but an informed opinion counts for something.
C) I might learn something.
D) Well, how bad can it be?

All four came into play this time. And this time, all four turned out to have some merit. Go fig!

A lot of these observations probably won’t be new or unique to me, but this movie turned out a little better than I expected. Hardly a classic, though. Compared to the nourishing psychic feasts of classic horror movies, “Freddy vs. Jason” is junk food. It’s mostly empty calories. But it has its moments.

Okay, spoiler warnings…in case someone actually cares!!!!

SPOILERS
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.
.

Now I’m going to use this token effort at a spoiler buffer to rant a bit.
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<redguy>  Aw, is widdle widdums not in the mood of some stampin’ on the soapbox? Tough cheese, little snuggums. My blog, my rules.
.
Okay, so I watched too much “Cow and Chicken.” Not following the reference? Are we unable to keep up, hmmmm? WELL, THAT”S TOO BAD!!!! </redguy>
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All the spoiler nonsense is endemic of Western civilizations adoption of the Elizabethan ethic of dramaturgy, where the unveiling of plot takes on greater emphasis than interpretation. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks had it the other way around, that the interpretation of the artist and the audience took precedence. You’d think from all the gratuitous remakes Hollywood pumps out so much, you’d think they must’ve hung out with the same Greeks. But whether it’s SF, sports, or soaps, spoilers are all that matter. Concern over spoilers are such horse-hockey, I swear. I mean, seriously! If people were this conscientious about all media consumption, we wouldn’t have to worry about impartial juries! F***ing nuisance.
.
.
.

Whew. That was fun. I’m almost too tired now to get on with the “Freddy vs. Jason” thing. Okay, okay! Lookie, I’m dropping the other shoe!

You can probably tell from the title, the film’s mainly a bone thrown at fanboys. “Who’d win in a fight, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees?” That’s high concept for ya, folks.

But the writers threw in something else. A little psychological subtext. This is a carryover from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, where character motivations fed plot as well as token attempts at surrealism. The writers of “Freddy vs. Jason” kept that aspect. And that was a smart move. It lent some intellect to an otherwise pointless gorefest.

As established in earlier films, the parents of Elm Street have gone to extreme lengths to stop Freddy Krueger. Their conspiracy of silence, to conceal and prevent the existence of Krueger, has taken downright Stalinist extremes. Kids who know too much about him have been carted off to a private asylum, drugged to keep them from dreaming. (How they’re expected to get any rest without going into a REM state…is totally beyond me.) The town has censored any reference to Krueger in official records and newspapers.

But like most ideas, Freddy Krueger resurfaces. Now forgotten and trapped in Hell, he hatches a plan to revive the town’s memory of him and free himself. He chooses a fellow lost soul. A fellow killing machine.

…with all the personality of a defective Cuisinart. Enter–or rather, exit– Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked, machete-swinging 4F nutboy of the “Friday the 13th” movies.

No, I don’t have much regard for this character. I mean, he’s not really a character, is he? Even Michael Myers, the equally anonymous and unstoppable knife-wielder from the “Halloween” movies, had more personality.

That’s where the cleverness in the original “Elm Street” concept salvages something from even the “Friday the 13th” movies. In this flick we see the true motivations, however shallow, of Jason Voorhees. We get a glimpse of his childhood (or at least Jason’s view of it): a mistreated Down’s Syndrome child, hounded and tormented by others, powerless to resist the soul-twisting influence of an oppressive mother during the late 1950’s.

Oppressive mother. The 1950’s. Did anyone pay Robert Bloch for this?

But anyway, this explains a lot. There’s no justification for his puritanical killing spree, but it does provide context. He’s acting on the lopsided ethics of his upbringing. He doesn’t know better. He didn’t have the chance. At heart, Jason is a victim. Without hope or direction. And out of control.

Of course I’m reminded of one of the better lines from Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon.” To paraphrase: I feel for him as a child. As an adult, he needs someone to blow the sick f*** out of his socks.

And I couldn’t help finding a certain aptness to the vulnerabilities that inevitably brought these two monsters down. Oppressed and submerged by wills greater than his, Jason is always left at the botton of Crystal Lake. Sexual deviant Freddy Krueger is powerless against fire, the force that deprived him of his bodily existence, the only thing that gave his lfe meaning.

I’m sure a lot of the symbolism and Jungian resonance I find in this horror schlock-fest wasn’t intentional. But hey, when you’re watching crap–even good crap–you start looking for psychological footholds.

Comments: 0
Written: Apr 15, 2005
Aug
10

Look at the Golden Woman

In case people haven’t heard already, the object of King Kong’s affections has gone to the Mann’s Chinese Theater in the sky.   Here are a few links:

I saw the original 1933 King Kong just a few weeks ago, and inadvertently renewed my childhood crush on her all over again.  I’d forgotten what a good actress she was, the way she expressed an ongoing struggle between tenacity and vulnerability.  For many years after, she had to reconcile herself to the shadow that King Kong cast over her career, and finally did so with charm and aplomb.  In fact she’d even become friends with director Peter Jackson when he took the reins of the King Kong remake.  She might not be here, but she’s radiant somewhere.

A quick postscript:  I prefer to keep Afterhell as non-partisan as possible, but I had to throw this bit of synchronicity in.  While I was writing up this entry, the second hour of the Al Franken Show started with a horror-oriented intro complete with John Carpenter’s theme for Halloween.  Oh man, I hope they do that again when October 31 comes around!

Comments: 0
Written: Aug 10, 2004
Jun
26

This Town Met Darkness at A Party Once

Just got back from ‘Salem’s Lot.  Man, does my neck hurt.

Tons of fans, of the horror genre or of Stephen King in particular, have been chomping at the bit about TNT’s remake of ‘Salem’s Lot.  I’m not trying to be punny, honestly.  Controversy has been buzzing around this thing for some time, ever since Tobe Hooper directed the original mini-series in 1979.

“It wasn’t like the book.”  “The opening was stupid.”  “They did Barlow wrong!”  “David Soul sucks!”  “I wanna blankie!” “Waaaaah!”

Yeah, kinda cold of me.  Sorry.  My sympathy for fundamentalists or literalists is a little low.

Here’s why.  Books ain’t movies, movies ain’t books, and parts ain’t parts, no matter what people tell you.  Literature and cinema are fundamentally different media, each putting their own special demands on artist and audience alike.  They each have their own merits.  You can’t just dump filet mignon into a blender and call it the perfect milkshake.  When a book is adapted to film or vice versa, you have to cut the results some slack.  Expect change.  Otherwise you get junk.

I subjected you to that  li’l lecture, true believers, only to make clear where I’m coming from.  I’m familiar with the book and the ‘79 mini-series, but not loyal.  I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations.  Just one.  I wanted it to be good.

Folks have asked what I think of the TNT remake.  Here I am telling you.

The first half was fantastic.  It boiled down the best qualities of the original book, right down to the opening narration.  Scriptwriter Peter Ficardi should be commended.  The teaser is the only major deviation from the source—and a good one—establishing crisis and drawing us in from the start.  When we hit the titular town, taking in quick character sketches of the people and the place, it’s like a funeral pall laid out before us.  We’re told at the opening, “This town knows darkness.”  And it’s easy to believe.

My hopes were up. It was promising good things.  There was some atmosphere, a few genuine efforts to hit a little too close to home.  This wasn’t a safe, orderly little world where a great eeeevil colors outside the lines.

It was really cooking until the second half.  It kept falling short of greatness.  Suddenly we’re stiffed with Hollywoodisms:  token Scully moments, the undead on the march, out-of-character one-liners, sudden orchestra hits and high-speed smash-edits.  Cheap shocks.  Carnival tricks.  And just when we’re handed a perfect ending for this horror flick, a lame-ass heavy metal cover of “Paint It Black” intrudes on it.

Don’t ruin the tone, idiots!   Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it’s not wishy-washy either.

Stupid.  Keep it simple, stupid.

I hate to say it, but I honestly don’t think director Mikael Salomon knew how to tackle horror at all.  I mean, look at this!  When asked what makes a movie scary, the one element he doesn’t mention is the story itself.

I’m sure someone will eventually try to hang me with my own words, but that’s what at the heart of every horror flick.  We need nightmares, not pranks.  We can get that stupid snake-in-the-candy-jar trick anywhere.  It doesn’t take a lot of skill to walk up behind someone and shout “Boo!”

And this version of ‘Salem’s Lot has been hamstrung by that very mistake, which was made repeatedly.  If it wasn’t for that, it’d have left us with chills long after the incredible shrinking end credits were done.

Sure, it’s fun.  No question.  Both adaptations have their moments.  But it could’ve been more.  It could’ve been memorable.

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Written: Jun 26, 2004