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Love Bites – Day 5 – Blade

Posted: February 8, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

In the 90’s vampire films became much more than horror. Alongside the romantic and sympathetic attitude of Anne Rice’s Interview, Blade introduced the vampire action flick. Featuring Wesley Snipes as the half-human, half-vampire, finally, there was a vampire movie with a black lead that didn’t have “Blacula” in the title.

Based on a Marvel comic book character first introduced in the 70’s, Blade possesses the supernatural strength and speed of a vampire but is immune to most of their weaknesses like sunlight or garlic. Created when a vampire attacked his pregnant mother, Blade wages a war¬†fighting to release humanity from the secret rule of the vampire masters. In the first film he is introduced through the eyes of Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright,) a doctor who is forced into the world of vampires and hunters when she is bitten by one of Blade’s quarry. Earning his acceptance with her stubborn refusal to hide on the sidelines, they discover a plot by vampire leader Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) to use vampiric magic to make himself a god. With the help of Whistler’s (Kris Kristofferson) anti-vampire weaponry and some martial arts throw-downs they face off against the vampire menace.

"Always bet on black."

Snipes played the role with a cool and hard-edged aplomb which, while suiting the film interpretation of the character, allowed him to be upstaged by the more entertaining Deacon Frost, or hilariously foul-mouthed Whistler. This is a sharp contrast from the Blade of his comic book appearances but is more in line in keeping with the stoic action anti-hero of the 90’s.

The new traditions of vampire cinema have continued through two decades now. With Blade sequels and television shows, Milla Jovovich in Ultraviolet, Daybreakers, and the Underworld series having just released its fourth film, the vampire as super hero is here to stay.

Love Bites – Day4 – Ultraviolet

Posted: February 6, 2012 by crowbait in Reviews, Television

Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t just a hit on American TV but became an important property for British television where it sparked a small renaissance of horror-themed entertainment. Writer/director Joe Ahearne brought Ultraviolet, his take on the vampire television series to Channel 4, the other, other British television station.¬†His series was to be a sharp contrast to the teen drama and humor of Buffy, deadly serious with the vampires as cultured monsters on the verge of a scientific breakthrough that would allow them to take over the world. Opposing them was a secret force made up of veterans and survivors. Supported by the Vatican and lead by a defrocked priest, they hunt “code 5’s” with carbon tipped bullets.

The series primarily followed Michael Colefield, a police detective. His friend Jack goes missing on the eve of his wedding and his fiance, formerly Michael’s girlfriend, begs him to find Jack. When Michael tracks down Jack, he is in the company of strange criminals who soon reveal themselves to be vampires and come for Michael’s blood. He is saved by Father Harman’s team of hunters and drafted into the secretive human/code 5 war.

The stories of the episodes were often grim and challenging: Revenge and murder, medical experimentation, child molestation. Post traumatic stress and loss had warped or ruined the lives of each of the vampire hunters. In the end, betrayal dashes any hope of a peaceful reconciliation and the war between the living and the undead is unavoidable.

Ahearne had big plans for the continuation of the series, considering the first season as a set up to the conflict with the vampire forces and opportunities to explore and expand the backstory of the minor characters. Yet, even after the success Channel 4 was slow to renew. It was less risky to just import and rerun more episodes of Buffy. When they finally decided that they would purchase a second series, it was too late. The cast had moved on to other shows and contracts and all continuity with the previous story would have been lost. What might have been for Ultraviolet never was.

Our fearless Code V(ampire) hunters. No one’s really excited about the prom.

Though the style of the show is extremely dated to modern viewers and in some places the low budget and unrefined CGI mar a scene, it is well worth a watching in the same way one would enjoy some of the early episodes of The X-Files. With only 6 episodes, it’s a series that could be polished off in a long afternoon. Though the character of Jack’s fiance is tooth-grindingly obnoxious, Idris Elba as Vaughn, the ex-soldier who has survived both war and vampires, is a very affecting character with some excellent scenes.

Love Bites – Day 2 – Vampire Circus

Posted: February 2, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

We continue our tour of vampiric cinema with another Hammer Horror selection, Vampire Circus. Made in 1972, this film lacks the “heavy hitters” of Hammer’s past vampire films but does feature Adrienne Corri whose role as rape victim in A Clockwork Orange¬†may be the only way most Americans would recognize her despite a long career on British television. Like most of these late period Hammer films, cheap thrills abound and bare breasted victims have their scenes punctuated by bright red blood splatters and awkward special effects.

The Victorian era vampires are at it again. Count Mitterhaus has a taste for the blood of children and his ghoulish mistress, the wife of the schoolmaster has been luring them to the castle for him. The townsfolk, riled to action by Prof. Mueller attack the castle to end his fiendish ways. The Count is staked and his castle set alight but his lover Anna hides his body and runs to find his kinsmen who will restore his un-life. Years pass and the town is beset by a plague so virulent that the neighboring towns have closed the roads to prevent it’s spread. The superstitious townsfolk blame the Count’s curse but Dr. Kersh believes it is a variety of rabies and with the help of his son Anton, he slips past the roadblock and rides to the capital for medicine. At the same time a travelling circus arrives and promise the inhabitants a distraction from their suffering with clowns, wild animals, tumblers, and magic tricks. However, this is a Vampire Circus! Disguised as performers the Count’s kinsmen and his lover have returned to lure the children of the village to him and sacrifice them. The Professor and Anton must try to defend the young people, including the Professor’s daughter, Dora from the corrupting appetites of the monsters!

From the opening scenes of child murder and naked tussling followed by the stabbing, staking and burning, the rest seems slow paced in comparison. That’s not to say the the film is tame. A family is mauled and their tattered bodies left to rot in the forest, the blood of several more children is drunk, musket balls blast through the strongman and the stakings and beheadings are full of crimson splatter. There is also the overt dance of the lion tamer and a nude woman in tiger striped body paint. I’m not sure how the superstitious Victorian-era villagers could resist burning these two on the spot for their sexual depravity. I suppose it could be explained by the bewitching effects of vampires but it’s not family entertainment. Put the kids to bed.

Not quite Cirque Du Soliel

The story itself is tangled between the many characters and plots. The action advances from scene to scene with some setups that do little to hide that it is a story of moments rather than a well thought out whole. The Count’s thirst for the blood of the children of those that killed him is an amusing precursor to Freddy Krueger but the romance between the Dr. and Prof.’s children is obvious as they are the only two young people left alive by the mid-point of the story. Dora is not a complete damsel in distress and manages to stake one of the vampires with a coincidentally pointy crucifix but she is helpless two minutes later as the scene calls for her to be captured to motivate the men to action. The men who, two minutes earlier had left to kill the vampire, meaning they would have crossed paths with the abductors. It reinforces that Hammer audiences were not turning out for the stories. As a Hammer vampire film; yeah. S’alright. Just don’t expect the legitimate chills of earlier Hammer vampires and accept it for the exploitation film it is.

He should have quite while he was ahead! He's the head of the class! That's one way to get ahead in life! He certainly has been decapitated and is therefore just a head!

As a note on minor roles, genre fans will be pleased by the appearance of Lala Ward as the (fully clothed) mute vampire acrobat and David Prowse as the (what else?) strongman.

Does it pass the Bechdel?¬†The only long conversation between two women is the Burgermeister’s daughter whining to her mother to let her go get sexed up by the vampires again. Apparently flattery will get you everywhere, including dead in a vampire’s tomb.

13 Days of Christmas 13: A Christmas Carol

Posted: December 23, 2011 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

On the Thirteenth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me‚Ķ Thirteen “Bah! Humbugs!”, Twelve Zombies Oozing,¬†Eleven Naughty Kringles,¬†Ten Mogwai Creeping,¬†Nine Obscene Phone¬†Calls,¬†Eight Santas Bleeding,¬†Seven Cookies Snarking,¬†Six Trees-a-Slaying‚Ķ¬†FIVE GARBAGE DAYS!‚Ķ¬†Four Naked Elves,¬†Three Death Cars,¬†Two Curling Duels¬†and a¬†Hell Goat in a Pear Tree‚Ķ

Crowbait:¬†The classic Christmas ghost story. Written in the 1840’s by Charles Dickens,¬†A Christmas Carol is probably the most popular Christmas themed horror story of them all. And it is most definitely a horror story. Dickens teaches us to appreciate the joys of Christmas by putting them in sharp contrast with poverty, illness, greed, ignorance and death. These messages are delivered to a villainous old man by an assemblage of tortured ghosts and supernatural personifications of time, including the hooded and robed spectre of death representing the inevitable future. Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Carol  has been adapted for the screen, large and small, dozens of times. Dozens. My favorite however has always been the first adaptation I saw: The 1984 made-for-TV version starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Most of my love for this adaptation can be credited to Scott. A respected actor with a horror pedigree thanks to the classic film The Changeling, Scott had just appeared as a villain in the film of Stephen King’s Firestarter¬†earlier that same year. His Scrooge is a villain, through and through. While other Scrooges have the selfish and miserly attitude that drives them to be unpleasant for the sake of driving away time-wasters, Scott puts real relish into such lines as “. . . any fool who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips would be boiled in his pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!” His growls rise into sharp exclamation as he shouts “Mr. Cratchit!” to chide his clerk (here portrayed by David Warner.) His exchanges over the plight of the poor show a man who goes beyond not caring, feeling they deserve his personal hatred for their impositions. To turn this monster into a man requires the intervention of some truly powerful apparitions.

The inclusion of a horse-drawn hearse rolling through the snowy streets amid billows of fog set the tone right away and the grim and gloomy environment carries through nearly every scene, sometimes in contrast to the joy of the people as they prepare their celebrations. Marley’s appearance as ghastly door knocker is supplemented by Scrooge’s imagination etching him on the tiles in his fireplace. His arrival is complete with the mysterious bells and clattering chains we have come to expect of all childhood ghosts since. Christmas Past is as ineffable as ever and the sadness of Scrooge’s downfall as a young man is weighed on as heavily as his small moments of happiness. Christmas Present is jolly and jovial and brings most of the humor to the story but his stay ends with Scrooge confronted by the lives of the destitute poor he condemns and the personifications of Ignorance and Want as sickly orphans. Christmas Future is absolutely horrifying. It drifts out of a fog bank, a black¬†silhouette against the light and in place of speech the electronic wail of an amplified violin punctuates its gestures.

As written, Scott’s Scrooge hangs on to his ways to the bitter end, moving through the stages of grief as he comes to terms with what he has been and what he can do, must do, to be more than a wretched monster whose passing the world would rejoice. When he turns the corner, Scott brings out a delightful¬†exuberance¬†and an almost childish playfulness when he teases Bob Cratchit before revealing to him his change of heart.

No other adaptation has captured my attention the same way. More recent film versions seem to think that the story is a parable meant for children and so they introduce humor or action to alleviate the weight of the terrible and frightening things that are part of the story. A Christmas Carol is a message for everyone, young and old. It deserves attention, now more than ever, as we see greed destroying things on a worldwide scale in a series of chaotic events that become personal horror stories every day.

One of the most interesting aspects of Dickens’ work is that despite the focus on Christmas, his holiday is almost entirely secular. Apart from the Cratchits’ short prayers, there is almost no mention of religion in the story. Dickens believed that the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t need to be Luke. 2.8-14, but it can be about simply caring for each other and sharing what we have to bring some small joy to everyone. Merry Christmas to all.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me‚Ķ FIVE GARBAGE DAYS! … Four Naked Elves,¬†Three Death Cars,¬†Two Curling Duels¬†and a¬†Hell Goat in a Pear Tree

crowbait:¬†It’s nearly impossible to talk about Silent Night, Deadly Night¬†2¬†without talking about 1, especially because half of 2 is¬†1 in recap, so we sat down to watch both films, back to back. The experience was . . . interesting? The first is a grim story of a serial killer in the 80’s slasher style but lacking any “good guys.” The second is a retread of the first but with additional scenes that rest on performances that are inappropriate at best and laughable at their worst. Seriously, there are times when¬†this thing is on par with Troll 2. ¬†We couldn’t stop laughing.¬† And neither could our murderous Santa.

The story surrounding the release of¬†Silent Night, Deadly Night¬†may actually be more interesting than the film itself. The original was despised well before it was released. The image of a murderer Santa set off a storm of controversy that involved the PTA and personal censure from Siskel and Ebert. Silent Night, Deadly Night¬†was not the first film to feature a Kringle-garbed villain but it became the focus of wrath due to its wide release planned for the Christmas season. As a result the film was pulled almost immediately. Another distribution company picked it up for a limited release in ’86 after gutting the kill scenes with heavy, heavy edits. It’s still a difficult film to find owing to the strange nature of ownership rights with the second film for reasons that will become clear.

The film itself is about a boy named Billy. He witnesses his father shot and mother assaulted and stabbed by a crazed criminal in a Santa suit on Christmas Eve. Billy and his infant brother Ricky end up in an orphanage run by the iron fisted Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) who applies the Catholic psychological practice of beatings when Billy does not “get over” his fear of Christmas and Santa. The lesson Billy learns is that bad things happen to bad people, punishment is always righteous and sex is always sinful, willing or forced. At the age of 18 Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) gets a job at a toy store. Everything is peaches until Christmas rolls around.

I'll shoot your eye out, kid.

The store’s Santa has called in drunk (as is the rule in film) so Billy must don the red suit and beard to placate the children and slowly freak the heck out. After the store closes a Christmas party ensues. Billy’s crush goes off to the back room with his boss and he creeps after them in time to witness the attempted rape. This is the trigger for Billy and he decides it is time to punish the naughty, as Santa should. A killing spree begins that would make Jason Voorhees proud as victims are strangled, sliced, shot with arrows, beheaded with axes and impaled on reindeer antlers for crimes real or imagined by Billy’s fevered mind. His path of destruction eventually leads him “home” to punish Mother Superior for what she has done to warp and twist this victimized boy.

There is no hero in this film. No final girl, and only Sister Margaret, played by Gilmer McCormick does anything to help Billy or stop his violence but she is a poor excuse for a Dr. Loomis and has no real effect on the outcome. The closest thing we have to a protagonist is Billy. We watch him grow up and suffer and break and rampage. This makes the overall tone of the film nihilistic and exceedingly dark. We lack the positive staples of an ’80s slasher, the good guys, and we’re left with Friday the 13th¬†by way of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The kills themselves are entertaining but the extreme editing done to tone down the violence and placate the film’s detractors (obvious due to the extreme change in film quality between the edited material and the surrounding print) render them mostly gore free and toothless. It’s kind of a shame actually. It’s not a good movie but it’s good enough to earn its place among the other cheaply made and kitschy horror films of the decade.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 2¬†has its own strange origin story. The filmmakers were given a pittance for a budget and told that they should just re-cut the first film and release it as a sequel, since no one had seen it the first time anyway. Director Lee Harry refused and wanted to make a full sequel but in the end we have a strange pastiche of the two. This film is probably best known today for a clip from Ricky’s spree killing rampage that is the source of the youtube meme “Garbage Day.” Yes, this one:

Drink it in folks, that’s about the level of acting you should expect from this film.

Billy’s little brother Ricky has grown up and followed the same path of violent rampage and Christmas hate that Billy took. Played by Eric Freeman, he spends the first half of the film being interviewed in his cell by Dr. Bloom (James Newman.) Before coming to his own punishment-inspired suburban spree killing he recounts to Bloom the actions of his brother in a series of flashbacks that are the first film, start to finish, cut down to half its length. Once that recap is complete Ricky escapes and goes on a Santa spree of his own, trying to finish the job his brother started. The nun and police are even less effective this time around but Ricky meets his Michael Myers-y end.

It’s kind of unfortunate that this film relies so heavily on the acting prowess of Freeman. He plays a cagey psycho for the first half of the film and a cackling murderer for the second but always with eyebrows flapping like he’s trying to take flight. Lines are hamfistedly written and poorly delivered and the low budget shows through in their quality. Where the film does succeed is in its gore. The few exotic kills it features have some good electrocution and beheading effects, so I guess that’s where the money went. Still there’s plenty of amusement to be had from the ridiculous and hammy performance of Roberts:

In all, I think that both films are worth watching though the sequel could almost be considered a strange parody of the first, lightening the absurd brutality with so-bad-it’s-good performances. And thanks to the miracle of the internet, these films will always live on through their legacy:

Does it pass the Bechdel?¬†Well, the nuns debate about how to raise a child, through¬†temperateness¬†or brutality. That’s about it.

13 Days of Christmas 2: Santa’s Slay

Posted: December 8, 2011 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

On the Second Day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…Two Curling Duels and a Hell Goat in a Pear Tree.

Santa’s Slay

crowbait:¬†My friends like it when I hate a movie. Maybe it doesn’t carry in writing but I get pretty animated when I discuss the costly failure of films like Transformers (two word review: Silence humans!)¬†and 300 (Thermopylae was a wet squib compared to Marathon and the Spartans were too high and mighty to take part in that Athenian victory. Where’s their movie?) This might be reason to celebrate because there is plenty to hate about this painful film, on ice! (Please note that the opinions expressed and the insulting language used in expressing them are all my own and do not necessarily reflect the attitudes or feelings of my cohorts.)

The film opens with a prelude as the Horrible Family sits down to Christmas dinner. (Don’t worry about the obvious paradox with the later events of the film, Santa has a time machine or something. Shut up.) Rich, selfish, vain, cheating jerks; they are designed for us to hate them so that seeing them ripped to pieces by murderous Santa will be a laff riot. This scene also features some TV star power. Chris Kattan and Fran Drescher cash a check for five minutes of unfunny jokes about the economic divide before drowning in eggnog or getting tossed through the furniture. ¬†James Caan wisely chose to go un-credited for his role as Father Horrible. Oops, cat’s out of the bag now! From Sonny Corleone to getting a turkey leg driven through your head by a WWE¬†retiree. There’s a career arc for you.

Anyway, after they’ve spent all their “talent” our story begins in earnest. Douglas Smith plays Nicolas Yuleson (puns!) as a melancholy boy who doesn’t understand why his grandfather is building a bomb shelter in their basement and making toys that double as weapons just in time for Christmas. His friend Mac (Emilie de Ravin) commiserates and wonders when they will finally become boyfriend/girlfriend instead of just pals. Soon enough the reason for the season is revealed.

I'd kill you but all my one-liners would get me in trouble with the anti-defamation league.

Santa has been released from parole and is on a killing spree. With seasonal¬†paraphernalia¬†and years of moves learned in the WWE he murders his way through the town. Crushing nativity displays, stabbing eyes with candy canes, feeding people to his helldeer, pinning a Jew to the wall with his menorah and using some suplex slams off the turnbuckle to silence carolers. For good measure he throws in pun-punctuation on the kills ensuring that you’ll groan 30+ times before the credits roll.

The path of destruction leads to Nicky boy and his granddad. See, 1,000 years ago Santa was actually the most evil bastard in the world. It’s understandable; his father is the Devil. Anyway, an angel was sent to curb his rampage and, knowing Santa loves a wager, he challenged him to contest. If the angel won, Santa was to bring goodness and cheer to the world every year on his birthday (Christmas! What delightful irony!) for 1,000 years. If Santa won, the angel would go to Hell. Seems a little uneven to me but I’m not much of a betting man.

There’s an actual clever moment here as the film transitions to stop-motion animation in the tradition of Rankin-Bass specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer¬†to tell the story of Santa losing his bet with the angel. Though the fact that the bet is a curling competition makes me think the writers were hoping that we are all still amused by horseshoes-as-Olympic-sport-because-ice-is-involved. Well don’t worry, it doesn’t last long before we’re back to the painfully unfunny reality of the story. Turns out, granddad is the angel! He loved a human woman so much he came down to Earth to live as a mortal and raise a family to be the guardians of the true story of Santa and maybe one day stop him by some means, maybe? It’s not really clear. I would think that an angel who is meant to save the Earth should have a better plan than hiding in his basement but I guess that’s why I’m not a screenwriter.

If there's one thing bumbles hate, it's obscure winter sports!

Speaking of plot holes, why isn’t Nic one of the Nephilim? Sired of the intermingling of an angel with a mortal woman? Shouldn’t he be a giant and an abomination in the eyes of God? Might have made the movie more interesting and they could have gotten another WWE performer for the part. Oh well, missed opportunity.

Once the truth is revealed Santa finally finds the address, offs granddad, and Nic and Mac run for their lives thinking that they can lead Santa to a group of hunters out for the traditional Christmas day clay-pigeon shoot. You remember those days? Standing outside in the snow for what must have been 10 hours firing shotguns into the sky. What delightful memories. I think Irving Berlin wrote a musical about that. On the way they stop by the school so that Santa can crack wise about Charles Dickens and so that murdered granddad can reappear as an angel again for some reason and challenge Santa to a rematch on the hockey rink. Santa cheats of course but he’s lost his magical immunity to bullets. For some reason. Nic and Mac run for it but granddad can’t accompany them on their path. For some reason. Really, was anyone writing this thing at this point? Mac and Nic get him to chase them the rest of the way to the gun club who blast jolly old Santa out of the sky with an anti-air missile which they have. For some reason.

But there’s a twist! Santa bailed out and now he must return to the North Pole and plot a sequel’s worth of revenge. Good f***ing luck with that.

All I want for Christmas is my two decent lines.

Bill Goldberg’s turn as the psychopath is all you would expect from a man who trod the boards in stadium after stadium in shows of pretend melodrama and real head trauma. Everyone else? I don’t know, maybe they could have turned in a decent scene or two if it weren’t for the drivel that pours from their mouths like so much curdled eggnog.¬†If there’s a single line of dialog that wasn’t an overwrought pun or some sarcastic nonsense I must have slept through it. Screenwriters, here’s a tip: After you’ve finished your script, do a search to find out how many times a character delivers the line “Ya think?” If it is more than once, consider revising your script. If it is more than twice, revise your script. If it is more than three times, burn the script, burn your computer and go find some other way to express your talent. Maybe¬†graffiti¬†on restroom stalls. And this comes from someone who likes Archer!

The film ends with one last clever touch in that each member of the cast and crew have a little check next to their name for naughty or nice. Unfortunately there’s some bad music with worse lyrics about evil Santa to muck that up. So, in summary, bad movie. Not even so bad as to be ironically funny, just bad.¬†But hey, there are a half-dozen topless strippers with funny names who die in a fire!

Does it pass the Bechdel?¬†Mac is the only female in the main story with dialog. There are a few brief interactions between the Horrible Family at the opener but nothing of substance. “Will you say grace?” “Dear Lord, we thank you that we are not poor . . .” That, and the strippers. Stay classy Santa.

31/31 Day 29 – Event Horizon

Posted: October 29, 2011 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

The Event Horizon was a ship designed to travel beyond the speed of light. With the ability to “fold space,” the ship would immediately travel fantastic distances by stepping out of the realm of “Einsteinian” physics. On its maiden voyage an unknown tragedy occurred. The ship vanished with the crew’s final garbled transmissions including panicked screams and fervent chanting in¬†Latin: “Liberate . . . me . . . ex infernis.” “Deliver me from Hell.” And then, seven years later the ship reappears, floating abandoned in space.

Captain Miller, played by Laurence Fishburne helms the Lewis and Clark and leads a crew of interplanetary rescue workers to board the ship and look for survivors or evidence of survivors. Travelling with them is Dr. Weir, the designer of the Event Horizon played by Sam Neil, who is looking for some explanation of what happened to the ship in its absence. Did it really travel beyond the light speed barrier? What did it find? Were there any ghastly complications with horrifying consequences? Why, of course there were.

The Event Horizon has traveled through Hell, the darkness between the stars. Escaping the boundaries of our physical reality has also meant driving the ship through dimensions of chaos. Warping space also has meant warping minds and the crew were driven insane but what they experienced in flight and turned to vicious, demonic savagery. The curse has clung to the ship and now the newly arrived crew of the Lewis and Clark are being invaded by demons from beyond. Hungering for greater suffering, Dr. Weir prepares to shanghai them as the new crew of the damned on the Event Horizon’s next voyage.

At its heart Event Horizon is a haunted house movie set in space. Specifically in a beautifully designed ghost ship with arcane and highly-stylized detailing that blends industrial sci-fi with gothic horror.  The repeated patterning of ribbed columns, angular florets, keystone archways and triptych windows conjures the look of some technological monastery. A place for the worship of inhuman, alien gods. The foolish intruders are met with their own weakness and lured into gruesome deaths that may seem to be terrible accidents at first but then escalate into bizarre mutilations that stem from deeply personal fears. Director Paul Anderson was eager to show audiences that he could make a hard-hitting horror film and with the kills, scares and hellscape set pieces of Event Horizon he realized his desires.

It is not a wholly straightforward ghost story and there are many influences from other sources that can be found in the film. The extra-dimensional horror of Hellraiser’s cenobites and the demons of the warp from the Warhammer 40K games and novels meet with the industrial craft setting of Alien and scares lifted from The Shining. But films, games, television and novels that came after can also owe some of their influence to this film. Don’t we see a little bit of it in Doctor Who’s The Impossible Planet? Or Pandorum? The starship-gothic style has been reused and was the foundation for the art direction and design of the Dead Space series of horror video games.

So what is the reason that this film is so reviled? I have seen it appear time and again on people’s “hate” lists and one friend of mine swore off Laurence Fishburne entirely after seeing it. Was it the surprisingly gory imagery that burst out in the middle of a sci-fi movie? Was it the sometimes odd music caught between the brooding post modern orchestra of Michael Kamen and the throbbing bass of Orbital? Was it just the elements that others could label as “derivative” that drove them away from it? Event Horizon has always been one thing for me; the intersection of my childhood sci-fi nerd with my adulthood horror film geek. It’s the perfect storm, referencing elements from all over my own past and present to draw them into a shocking and gorgeous picture of genre blending sci-fi and horror.

Event Horizon, my favorite horror movie.

31/31 Day 28 – Higurashi; When They Cry

Posted: October 28, 2011 by crowbait in Reviews, Television

Higurashi; When They Cry is a unique property. A series of interconnected horror stories of murder and mayhem in a small Japanese town but set over the same time span so that, like the film Groundhog Day, the story is told and retold as variations on a theme. A group of middle school friends uncover evil spirits in their town and then turn on one another to murder and mutilate. Over and over.cover from Higurashi sound novel

This series began as “sound novels,” a name coined to describe illustrated novels that were distributed on media for a game console. The series consisted of eight stories with a structure of retelling the first four from a different character’s perspective in the second set. The property was a success in this format and spun off into manga (comic books) and an animated tv series of 26 episodes which I review here.

The story begins with Keiichi, a city boy who has recently arrived in the tiny rural town of Hinamizawa. He is quickly befriended by four of the local girls and is press-ganged into their card and board game club. The characters and overall tone are extremely cutesy, with much humor revolving around the girls embarrassing each other in front of the only boy in their group and the style of art shifting as well to a more wacky cartoon style to emphasize these scenes. Though this setup is similar to the “harem” style of anime shows in which a single male is surrounded by a group of attractive girls competing for his affections, When They Cry’s cast are young and innocent so that the romantic tensions are more about infatuations or crushes rather than the sexual tensions of other shows in the sub-genre.

The friendly fun and games only last so long and soon Keiichi stumbles onto a mystery. Years ago a murder and disappearance occurred during a local festival honoring Oyashiro, the patron spirit of the town. A government plan to redirect a river would have required that the entire town relocate but the town was spared as support for the project dropped when the strongest proponents went missing and one was found murdered. Keiichi becomes fascinated by the killing and starts asking questions until even a local police detective is interested in what he has uncovered.

Things start out fine . . .

As he digs deeper we find that each of the girls has lost family to strange disappearances or even murder in the past and always around the time of the annual festival. This “cotton drifting festival” pays tribute to ancient times when those who had offended the demonic entities were tortured and sacrificed and the more Keiichi probes into the past the more violence and vanishings are found to surround the festival. At the same time the girls become more angry and aggressive. They constantly remind him about Satoshi, the boy who used to be their friend who was “transferred” a year ago after he startled asking questions about the disappearances. Their comments become more and more threatening and after Keiichi finds a needle in a rice ball given to him by Rena, he fears for his life.

A strange van almost runs him off the road, Rena faces off against him with the beaked hatchet that became the signature implement of the first season, the girl’s eyes twist into cat-like pupils, the police detective has gone missing, and finally two of the girls corner him when his parents are out, stab him with a syringe and he awakes to find he has beaten all his friends to death with a baseball bat. Despondent, he flees from the scene and calls the police. He is immediately connected with the detective who now has no recollection of him. Feeling himself hounded by the demon, Keiichi tears his own throat open and bleeds out in the phone booth. The cotton drifting festival has again exacted its terrible toll on the village.

but soon they go from bad . . .

And then . . . The story “resets” itself. The murdered characters are alive and well. It’s a few days before the festival and a new story plays out over the same span. This is the most bizarre feature of When They Cry; each 4 episodes is a complete story arc featuring the same characters but leading toward another violent end. In a few scenes a character will seem somehow aware of the deja vu of the situation or recognize a character from another timeline but each story diverges into a new series of strange disappearances and brutal killings.

Iterations may shed some light on the background of the town and history of events, such as the nature of the town’s patron spirit or the relationships of major characters to the victims lost in the previous year’s slayings. At the same time some “facts” are obscured or altered, such as the appearance of an unknown twin sister, a missing brother, or the involvement of a shady criminal or government organization. Each new story however leads to a more gruesome end than the last. Characters will be brutalized with baseball bats, stabbed with ceremonial tools, have nails driven through all the joints of their fingers and commit suicide with a butcher knife in an unexpected and novel way. The demon of Oyashiro demands sacrifice and one way or another, he will have it.

to worse.

When They Cry is currently out of print and the DVD rights have passed to a new distributor so it may be some time until the series is easily available again. (There is some hope now as the original sound novels have been rereleased for the iPad this past year.) The cartoony appearance, simpering voices and embarrassing situations of the character’s pre-disaster lives will probably not be to the taste of gore hounds but the levels of depraved violence and horrific suicide perpetrated by pre-teen cartoon characters demands a viewer who can enjoy such madness. Like most anime, the imbalance of budget shows through and the first episodes are more well crafted than the last few of the season as time and budget wore thin. The translated voice acting is good with a few dud lines, mostly in the inner narration of Keiichi as he rehashes the obvious. It’s a hard sell for many who are not already fans of the genre but I would recommend giving When They Crya view if you have the option. Just be aware that this is a series that will challenge you intellectually with its winding plot threads just as it forces you to make a gut check again and again as the dearest, sweetest, most angelic little girls in the world eviscerate one another in an unending loop.

31/31 Day 22 – Thirteen Ghosts

Posted: October 23, 2011 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

Apologies for the late delivery of this post. With three movies on the schedule for yesterday something was doomed to fall through the cracks. Thanks for your patience!

The Dark Castle Entertainment production company was created to remake William Castle’s horror film catalog. The director, famous for his populist horror films featuring in-theater gimmicks, both schlocky and surprising, were famous in the 50’s and 60’s and director/producers Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver decided they would bring his work into the modern age. After the enjoyable House on Haunted Hill, their sophomore effort was Thirteen Ghosts.

Poster from 1959 film Thirteen GhostsCastle’s Thirteen Ghosts sees the eccentric millionaire Dr. Zorba will a mansion to his nephew Cyrus. Cyrus and his wife and son move into the house to find that it is haunted, and haunted by 12 different ghostly entities. Dr. Zorba was fascinated by the occult and has collected these spirits. To study his phantasmagoric menagerie, Zorba invented special glasses that turn the invisible threat of the ghosts into horrifying visions. Adding to the mystery of the house is a pile of hidden money and a scheming lawyer hoping to drive the owners out so he can ransack the place for it. Hauntings ensue and finally a victim is claimed, completing the collection of 13 spirits and allowing the other ghosts to escape.

Castle’s film is quite good, though a product of its day as the visible wires of the special effects and somewhat overdone performances bear out. The scares are gruesome, with ghostly axes chopping off ghostly heads, silhouette spousal murder and a tornado of flame and bones. It’s also in these encounters that the William Castle trademark gimmick appears. In this case it’s ghost vision, meant to mimic the special glasses used in the film by characters to see the ghosts. Castle filtered the actors and backgrounds in blue and overlaid the ghost effects in red. The audience were given viewers with blue and red gels, like old style 3-D glasses. Viewed through the red lens, the overlaid ghosts were invisible, while through the blue lens they stood out in all their ghostly, gory glory. The effect is surprisingly successful and still packs a punch today. Overall, I think this is one of Castle’s best.

Poster for 1999 production of 13 GhostsFor the Dark Castle Entertainment remake Dr. Zorba has been replaced by Cyrus Kriticos, a rich eccentric collecting ghosts; trapping them in containers sealed with magical incantations and installing them in the basement of his bizarre mansion: A house with glass walls; each surface covered in arcane script and capable of being reconfigured by a gigantic clockwork machine at the heart of the house. This device will harness the ghostly energy of the prisoners and deliver untold power to its creator. The family are once again lured in by inheriting the marvelous house but Uncle Cyrus is using them, trying to drive the father to kill himself and fill the role of the 13th ghost that will complete the house machine.

Performing in this remake are Tony Shaloub, F. Murray Abrahams and 4 of the most annoying people you will ever experience. Abrahams is a good imperious and conniving villain and Shaloub is sufficiently depressed and hapless as the hopeless, destitute widower. The son is now death obsessed and possesses an Elmer Fudd level “sacchawinwy” cute lisp. A daughter has been added whose job is to be an obnoxious teenager, constantly lust after a bigger bathroom and flash some cleavage during a very “male gaze” ghost attack. The rap-star-turned-actress is a sassy housemaid and provides the embarrassing rap over the end credits, as must have been required by law during the late 90’s. And then there’s Matthew Lillard; a loud mouth psychic who panics continuously in a way that makes me want to reach into my screen and throttle him.

It’s a shame that such poor performances detract from what is a beautifully designed film. The backdrop of the house is amazing. A construction of glass walled spaces, ever shifting in complex ways and a huge floor of concentric rings ticking off the activation of the house’s devices. In the behind-the-scenes feature the crew describe the unique challenges of working in a set that is simultaneously transparent and reflective and how it required a unique approach to the cinematography.

Still from Thirteen Ghosts

So I was at the mall yesterday? With Tiffany and Vanessa? And she was being so totally mean. No, not Vanessa, Tiffany! Anyway this really dorky kid from English class was in line at the Jamba Juice? And she was all like . . .

The ghosts themselves are also well designed and realized, all in prosthetic make-up and practical effects. The ghosts are an occult zodiac and each has a distinctive design (one of the more interesting DVD features is a profile of each of the ghosts.) The gimmick of ghost vision returns but only on screen as the glasses worn by ghost hunters to allow them to see the horrifying spectres bearing down on them.

Despite the impressive production values, I can’t recommend the 1999 remake for viewing by any human being. Visually the film is a success but disappointing performances ruin it. The original ’59 version is fun with a gimmick that deserves a look. Especially if you’re fortunate enough to see it in a theater setting. William Castle’s films were all about the experience of the movies and it’s a shame to miss an opportunity to see them on the big screen

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31/31 Day 20 – The Hunger

Posted: October 20, 2011 by crowbait in Film, Reviews
Film poster for The Hunger, a key influence in...

All the blood rushes to your head if you do that. Not a problem, I guess.

A dream of vampires is always a nightmare. The Hunger, made in 1983 is the story of a vampire’s love, the curse of immortality and the liberation of sex and violence.

The alluring vampire Miriam, played by Catherine Deneuve has survived for¬†millennia. Originally an Egyptian princess, she now hides as a wealthy urbanite with her lover John, played by David Bowie, a cellist whom she gifted with her vampiric immortality hundreds of years ago. At night they venture out together, visiting the clubs and discos and seducing the young and hedonistic whom they murder and feed upon mid-coitus. John however has developed a problem. Blood no longer sustains him as it used to and he begins aging rapidly. Apparently after 300 years Miriam’s gifts of immortality begin to fade and John will soon end up a living husk as his body wastes away. John, trying to find a way to prolong his life reaches out to Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) a specialist in accelerated¬†decrepitude,¬†who at first ignores his story until she witnesses his sudden aging for herself. She follows him and discovers Miriam who, having just locked away John’s remains is eager to find a new companion to replace him. Half through romance and half through a mental domination she seduces Dr. Roberts. Roberts attempts to resist her new life but finds that she needs blood to survive and Miriam uses her overwhelming thirst to turn her on Tom, her boyfriend. Roberts’ guilt over the murder turns her against Miriam and as they kiss she slits her own throat. This treason empowers the remains of Miriam’s former lovers and they rise as shambling monsters and destroy her. Roberts, as the lone survivor inherits Miriam’s life and the powers of her death.

The classic vampire tale Carmilla¬†by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu can be credited as the beginning of the fascination of lesbian relationships played out through vampiric desire. These sexual undertones to the Gothic Victorian story rose to the surface and became the subject and audience draw of several Hammer Horror flicks of the 60’s and 70’s.¬† Hammer continued to mine that story, trying to find as many anagram spellings of Carmilla as they could to keep bringing her back. As the times and the treatment of explicit sexuality in film changed, these predatory lesbian relationships began to evolve. Losing some of the lurid qualities of those older films but still capitalizing on the titillation, Miriam and Dr. Roberts’ affair is powerful and erotic but also seen through a haze of gauze and wandering camera focus, emphasizing the dreamlike state of both Roberts’ mesmerized perceptions and Miriam’s abandon into ecstasy. The lesbian relationship is not evil so much as it is tragic; a bond forged by the opportunistic needs of the vampire and the human fascination with the forbidden.

Bowie was already a sex symbol and so his character falling out of Miriam’s life and into decrepitude has an odd parallel to the lives of most star musicians. In an almost vampiric defiance to this path Bowie has continuously reworked his image to defy being pigeon-holed into the music of a past age. He also still looks much younger than he should. Seriously, if anyone is looking for proof of the existence of real vampires, they should stalk Bowie for a few months.

Tony Scott, in his first feature film outing brought an artistic, methodical, and imagery rich style to life in a film that differs from the fast-paced style of the spy thriller and action dramas of his later work. Elements of his brother Ridley’s visuals in Blade Runner the year before show their influence, particularly the intimate scenes in Deckard’s apartment and the cut dream sequence, but then Legend, released in ’85, may owe some of its fairy tale otherworldly qualities to what Ridley Scott saw in his brother’s work. Sequences such as Roberts’ seduction and the rise of the undead hordes of Miriam’s lovers are more artistic in depiction than they are lurid or violent. This is a film about the art of horror, depicting the fascination of people with the unknown rather than terror.

The romantic movement in goth subculture, Ann Rice’s vampire novels and indeed an entire sub-genre of literature featuring the sympathetic vampire and the dozens of films that followed owe much of their attitude, visual flair, and enduring tropes to this film. A seminal work in the modern recreation of the vampire as less a beast of perverted desire and more a symbol of liberated, yet still dangerous human sexuality.