Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Travel Tuesday

It's here...

A whole hour on the new greatest film of all time. GleeKast cohostess Erica and I detail the plot, music, styling, and Cher-induced crying of a former Goonies star directed masterpiece, Burlesque. Get it on the iTunes feed for GleeKast, or stream here: http://gleekast.podomatic.com

And be sure to dress like a whore when you do!

Also in the world, I stopped by the Gentlemen's Blog to Midnite Cinema to review the late Irvin Kershner directed, Mommie Dearest starring Eyes of Laura Mars. Though I didn't love the film, I did find the chance to reference the following:

AMC Pacers
America's Next Top Model

All of which, when mixed, tastes like the lips of Brad Dourif

And that my friends, tastes goooooooood.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nerd Alert! Books Books Books (& Books)

I’m a slacker, but also something of a nerd. Some might even call me a nerdlacker. By ‘some’ I refer to ‘myself.’
See, I read a lot. I write a lot. I combine them sometimes, then forget that I did and end up with today’s post, i.e., a list of genre-esque books I read back in the summer through the fall. That’s my story and this nerdlacker is sticking to it.
Now please let me out of this locker. I have chess team practice and coach doesn’t tolerate tardiness.

The Conquerer Worms
Brian Keene is probably today’s most cinematic horror novelist. Of the three novels that I’ve read, each is drawn so vividly that you can see virtually every drip of blood and scrap of flesh on the page. Taking a break from his successful zombie fiction, The Conquerer Worms is a neat hybrid, part post-apocalyptic narrative and part monster mash.
As the back flap reads, one day, it started raining. And didn’t stop. Lots of bad stuff happened.
Okay, the back flap didn’t say that part. Sometimes I lie.
One half of the novel is narrated by a senior citizen fighting loneliness, desperation, and nicotine withdrawals on a West Virginia mountain as he quietly survives what his neighbors have not, namely, prehistoric worms slowly making their way to devour everything left on the earth’s surface. Eventually, the story switches to a mixed group eking out an existence in a Baltimore high rise hotel, all the while evading merciless Satanists, man-eating mermaids, and gigantic carnivorous sea creatures.
I’ve yet to be disappointed by Brian Keene’s writing. Though it starts a little slower than some of his other zombie fiction, The Conquerer Worms is a gripping tale that keeps you in constant suspense. Keene’s ability to use unique narrative voices is in full force, with Teddy Garnett’s wise old man making the reader easily emotionally involved. The second story lacks the same heart to put you on board with the characters, but it makes up for it with brutal storytelling that gets darker with each page. An easy recommendation.

The Bridge
Penned by ‘90s splatterpunk heroes Craig Skipp and John Spector, The Bridge tells the story of a Pennsylvania town on the edge of a pollution caused Armageddon. Gooey mutations ensue.
Though it suffers a little from trying to cover too many characters, The Bridge remains a fun summer page turner rich in gruesome carnage and icky monster imagery. It doesn’t read like poetry, but for a horror movie in your hands, it’s an enjoyable way to pass some time. 

The Exorcist
I’m a fairly easy person to make happy, but to really bring me to a state of bliss, throw a pile of slightly used books on the sidewalk with a sign that says ‘Free.” That’s how I picked up my paperback, coverless copy of William Peter Blatty’s infamous 1971 novel,  the very piece that spawned a somewhat popular movie with a killer third installment, The Exorcist.
To give a disclaimer, of course I’ve seen The Exorcist but sadly, it was at the wrong time in my life. I grew up with horror so it didn’t seem inappropriate to rent the VHS in fourth grade. Unfortunately, it was probably the worst possible age. At 10, I was too young to get some of the sexuality and despite a minor Catholic education, not quite old enough to fully grasp the religious aspects involved. Meanwhile, my soiled elementary school eyes had already witnessed their share of zombie mayhem and slasher guttings, rendering some of the violence tame by my then-standards. I’d seen Karen Cooper get zombified then slaughter her mother with a garden spade, both in color and black and white. Why should I care about one rich girl fighting a demon who didn’t have anything better to do? 
There are two main observations I made in comparing Blatty’s novel to Friedken’s Oscar nominated film (you know, the one that according to Kristen Stewart’s Oscar writers, was the last horror film to come near winning a little gold man except...stop it, nerdlacker). The first is just how closely the script follows its source, straight down to the infamous spider walk and crucifix masturbation. On the other side is how much more psychologically based the novel feels, as more pages are devoted to a faith vs. reason debate than gore. It makes perfect sense that Blatty would later go on to direct The Exorcist III, a film filled with powerful imagery, engaging dialogue, and open questions about the nature of evil.
But as much as I would kind of love to always talk about The Exorcist III, I think the title of this post is supposed to be devoted to books. So read the book, then see The Exorcist III.
Community service, you’ve been served!

Many of you already know of my love and admiration for the fictional horrors of one Jack Ketchum. Between his gruesome novels and deeply chilling short stories, he is, without doubt, my favorite genre writer.
Cover tells the tale of Lee Moravin, a Vietnam vet whose psychological war scars are so deep that he simply can’t live with others. Left alone in the woods with a loyal dog (seriously, no one writes man’s relationship with his pets quite like Ketchum) and a thriving marijuana farm, Lee rotates between woodsy solitude and violent flashbacks. 
Meanwhile, a group of middle aged literary yuppies (plus a surprisingly well-drawn supermodel) take an innocent wilderness weekend trip just outside Lee’s territory. In no time, Lee declares the city slickers his Nam enemies and plots a vicious hunting spree. 
Cover is not my favorite Ketchum read, but it’s brisk and fairly addictive. Lee is a fascinatingly tragic figure, a sympathetic man who’s seen some of the worst sights imaginable. In another plot, he could be a hero, yet once our ‘civilized’ campers enter his borders, he’s a bloodthirsty killer we can’t possibly root for. The balance Ketchum achieves in drawing both sides as real people dropped into the wrong situation is horrifying and believable. In no way is this the most fun you’ll have with a book, but for darker days, it’s a high recommend.
On the Beach
I’m not exactly sure why I find so much enjoyment in reading depressing sagas about the end of the world, but let’s just look past the psychology to discuss 1957’s On the Beach, a twice-filmed novel set just after a worldwide skirmish has brought upon Armageddon. Nuclear fallout has left a rash of radiation in the air and as surely as the wind blows, every drop of human life will eventually--months, weeks, days--be killed.
Set in Australia (one of the last reaches to receive the pollution), On the Beach focuses on a few key characters trying to make the most of their final days. An American naval officer continues to live as if his family is alive, even though nobody has heard a breath of life from US soil in months. If he could face the truth, he’d surely fall for the twentysomething unmarried (and doomed to die alone) local girl who struggles to find anything worth living for when there’s nothing that can be started and completed in the time remaining. A young couple raises their newborn without consequence until factors call for the dreaded suicide pill discussion. There are deadly auto races that let the brave go out in a flame of glory. Some people prefer to drink themselves to death.
Depressing, sure, but also fascinating and told with intelligent restraint. Author Nevil Shute was predominantly known for military literature and though some of that does show up on the more naval-based pages, On the Beach is much more about character and humanity than submarines. Though a few officers discuss responsibility and world politics, the novel focuses far more on the individual reactions to what war has left. The result is a haunting tale I couldn’t put down.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Get Down With the (Bone) Sickness

It seems like just yesterday that T.L.Bug and I were trading movies over pizza and bottled beer, but that’s just because I received photographic evidence of said exchange just...this morning.

That’s right, it’s our monthly movie swap, this time done LIVE. Well, not really, but kinda in the closest way we could get! Surrounded by podcasters, bloggers, circus folk and friendly waitresses, Bugg and I traded our own physical copies of movies (yes, they still make those) for review. 

Photographic evidence!!!

Fly over to The Lightning Bug's Lair today for his review of Cut, a Scream-y slasher starring Molly Ringwald at her bitchiest (i.e., best).
But first, here’s a little something something given to me:

Quick Plot: Kristen is trying to take care of her bone sick husband Alex, but life is tough when your only real healthcare system equals your best friend digging up dead bodies and grinding them into a delicate paste that goes okay with granola and milk. 
Clearly, this was made during the Bush administration.
And probably right around the time the economy started being a jerk.
See, Bone Sickness is a low budget movie, a fact one will know as soon as the very first shot-on-video scene rolls before our eyes. Sure, there was enough cash for a fog machine and some form of bribery to get every single female actress to take off her blouse, but whatever meager leftover funds remained were clearly pinched at every corner the filmmakers could find.

For that, Bone Sickness really isn’t that bad. Writer/director Brian Paulin is clearly a splatter fan, and he doesn’t shy away from delivering some occasionally Halloween-y, occasionally believable (from a butcher shop) gore, baby maggots and all. Although the effects are hit and miss, some are quite impressive in an ‘80s Italian zombie kind of way. It doesn’t quite make up for the barely-there character conversations that seem to overpower the first half as the foggy plot dies off for a somewhat unrelated third act, but hey: we get a quick shot of skeleton zombies having sex.
I think. They may have just been doing pushups. It was dark.

High Points
Though some of the casting makes it hard to fully buy the never really defined love triangle, I did like the basic setup of Kristen trying her most earnest to save her dying husband. I just kind of wish the actor who played her husband never spoke

Low Points
Just because your camera has these fun buttons like ‘night vision’ and ‘filter’ does not necessarily mean you have to use them
Talking zombies--especially when covered in gooey makeup that limits some mouth muscles--really shouldn’t be given monologues during your film’s climax

Lessons Learned
Nothing says classy digs like dinner on paper plates, leopard curtains with matching towels, and a framed portrait of a wolf
If storing human meat in your fridge, it’s probably best to label the contents or get used to the taste
Feathered bangs are no man's friend

The dead don’t enunciate
Bone Sickness is by no means a good film, but it’s a strong enough entry into the under-$5000 budget genre of DIY movie-making to not warrant any hatred from me. Splatter zombie fans might enjoy the effects, which include an extended (and kind of out of nowhere) finale that involves what I imagine were every individual that ever owed the filmmakers a favor getting eaten. If cheap and dirty horror ain’t your thing, stay away. Unless you like boobs, which you get to see quite often. Which reminds me of a high point I almost neglected:
Thank you, Mr. Paulin (pictured above), for only asking the ladies to disrobe. It doesn’t do anything for me personally, but as more clothes started to fall off, I became more and more worried I’d have to sit through gratuitous nudity involving some men who are, to be kind, just not my taste. Your restraint is appreciated.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If Only They Were Neutered...

When it comes to filmmaking, one of the best ways to earn some audience bonus points is to simply add a whole lot of affection for genre cinema. Shaun of the Dead remains a beloved classic not just because it’s clever, but because it taps into the mind and heart of horror afficionados who like their Fulci & Foree references subtle and classy.
Doghouse, a horror-comedy directed by Jake West, is clearly made by people who love horror. You would probably guess that by the mere fact that one major character owns a comic store and makes hourly references to The Evil Dead, or, through minor research (i.e., scrolling down IMDB) learning that West himself has made documentaries about--take a guess--The Evil Dead. You probably already know what type of film you're about to be watching.

Quick Plot: Vince (Li'l Al Capone from Boardwalk Empire, a fine actor that probably has a real name that’s not nearly as much fun to say as Li'l Al Capone) is down in the dumps as he recovers from a recent divorce. To cheer him up, his assorted male mates decide to rent a bus (which includes a plucky blond bus driver) and do some relaxing in the small village where pal MIkey grew up. Sounds like a lovely plan, which in horror filmese translates into a terrible idea that will bring about cannibalism, cross-dressing, and cursing.

See, the town of Moodley is having some issues, namely, the minor tourist-killing tradition wherein all the females have been turned into hungry man-hating/man-eating zombies. It’s a minor inconvenience.
Our heroes, it should also be said, are closer in vein to Shaun and Ed than Roger and Peter. The best plans they can come up with almost exclusively include novelty items from an abandoned toy shop, which is actually quite awesome. Would you believe me when I said the best and most suspenseful scene the of film features a remote-controlled car with a decapitated head riding shotgun?

That, of course, is part of Doghouse’s problem, as it never quite masters that fine balance between silly goofs and genuine scares. It will make you laugh, whether by way of zombie with a walker or a geek homage, but it just doesn’t have that lasting emotional weight of, well, Shaun of the Dead. A good time, just not one nearly as memorable.
High Points
Though Doghouse isn’t going for breaking the zombie mold, it does produce some interesting twists on the infection. Yes, we’ve seen the military-virus-for-better-war-practices angle before, but how the actual monsters evolve is rather neat

Mild spoiler: by about the 45 minute mark, I started to wonder if anyone was actually going to die in this movie. Doghouse does a rather incredible job of stretching out its lighthearted mood so far that you truly believe everyone is safe and will finish the film with a group hug. They don’t. But what works so well is that the film takes SO LONG to kill its first victim that by the time it happens, you truly are shocked and saddened. It’s a unique trick I haven’t really seen too often in a horror comedy (oh yeah, except for Shaun of the Dead)
Low Points
Though all the actors are quite strong, there’s something lacking in their brotherly relationship that ultimately limits the emotional and intellectual weight of Doghouse. We care about these guys, but it never feels like they care as much about each other as is needed in a film about male companionship overcoming the horrors women put them through

Lessons Learned
Toy lightsabers are not adequate zombie fighting weapons
Water pistols, on the other hand, are far more versatile than you might think

A few things worse than getting divorced: rape, murder, castration, and being hunted by angry undead hair dressers

A personal reminder: I really should be using the adjective ‘sodding’ more often in my daily speech
Doghouse is an enjoyable, if slightly frustrating little film that would make a fine light-hearted party movie with drunken chatty friends. Though it hints at some intriguing commentary on the battle of the sexes and how men are emasculated, the film is ultimately too fluffy to really make any important statements. Couple that with the characters’ general goofiness and you have a perfect companion to something like Severance, another British horror comedy that produces plenty of fun while never quite ascending to Shaun of the Dead levels of perfection.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reader Recommendation: The Changeling

"Ultimately though, I have to recommend Peter Medak's 1980 film The Changeling. No one will appreciate this film more than a hardcore horror fan. It's the diamond in the rough for which everyone searches. There are better made films on your list, but this is the type that no one outside of genre fans would champion. It's a slow burn mystery/horror film with virtually no gore or jump scares that relies almost exclusively on its spooky atmosphere and great acting. This is a ghost story that puts modern day J-horror to shame. What Medak does with a couple of ordinary props, is far creepier than any amount of CGI nonsense. Also, it features one of the best casts ever assembled for a movie of this sort. There's lots of future enjoyment to be had on your list, but this one is special and I highly recommend smushing it to the top of your queue."--Shiftless

"We have a serious injustice to address.

First, contest or not, you need to find 
the nearest copy of The Changeling. I don't care if you have to stay up all night or miss work tomorrow. In fact, if you can't get a copy - and if netflix doesn't offer it - let me know. I will burn you one (all kidding aside, I really will if you can't get it). It is my favourite horror movie. It has that classic late 70s feel to it (you know...shot like a drama, starring a real leading man). It's all about personal tragedy - for both the living and the dead. It uses suspense instead of big scares. And George C. Scott doesn't deliver one line or one look half-assed. It's one of those movies that most 16 yr olds today probably couldn't sit through because it's boring, since the movie actually develops a full fleshed plot, and the conflict is just as much about the main character's life as it is about his experience with the paranormal." --My Ghoul Friday

How could I resist?
Quick Plot: To further prove my point that upstate New York is a vicious land fraught with evil, famed composer John Russell (George C. Scott) experiences the greatest of all tragedies when his wife and young daughter are struck by a truck on the side of a snowy road. Still dealing with his enormous grief, John packs up and moves cross country into a historical house in Seattle where he plans to take things day by day while teaching and working on his next symphony.

It doesn’t take long for the house to start its own job, namely, creeping John out by making eerie noises and eventually, revealing a hidden attic room with insanely high dust levels and a few mysterious artifacts dating 70 years earlier. Most unsettling is a vintage wheelchair and an in tune music box that happens to play...the exact same original piece John had been composing.

John begins a quest to solve the mystery of his new home with the help of his historical real estate representative, Claire (Trish Van Devere) one of those attractive women from the cinematic land of lonely working (not prostitute) girls who seem to be saving themselves for the day a usually older and less attractive male outsider comes to town. 
Claire and John invite a pair of mediums into the house to identify John's squatter. In the film's most unsettling scene, the earnest psychic speaks to the ether, communicating with the ghost via scribble. I won't spoil the nature of John's haunting, but much like the John's own story, it ultimately proves to be a satisfying combination of the sad and scary.

On the other hand, the sheer nature of The Changeling's plot offers a small set of limitations. The ultimate mystery is quite interesting, but it also signals the end of some of the film's more potent scares. Perhaps I've simply seen too many wronged ghost seeking peace tales, but once we know how to solve John and Joseph's problem, the film loses some of its terrifying urgency. That doesn't necessarily take away from the chilling moments before it--I never thought I could be so afraid of a bouncing ball from a film that wasn't called TROLL--and ultimately, The Changeling is an effectively chilling yarn.
High Points
I sometimes forget how a good actor makes a simple story so much more interesting. As John, George C. Scott carries a gravitas that never lets you forget his character's tragedy. It also helps that he almost looks like he's a surprise party away from a heart attack at every turn.

No matter how old I get and how many CGI demons tease my soul, I'll never be immune to the eeriness of choral music, children's whispers, or toys ending up where they shouldn't be
Low Points
Though I loved the haunting piano melody that creeps throughout the film, some of the other scoring is a tad too obvious in channeling when the ghostly happenings are on deck
Considering how good Scott is and how compelling his character's story is, the somewhat forced inclusion of Wood's Claire almost takes a little away from what should really be his exclusive story

Lessons Learned
Based on every horror movie I've seen from The Blob '88 to this one, phone booths did far more harm than good (sorry Bill & Ted)
When planning a seance, always be sure to stock extra paper and many sharpened pencils

Dusty wheelchairs have bad attitudes

The Changeling is a much loved ghost story, and rightly so. As Shiftless pointed out, it's a true example of craftsmanship and storytelling in how it does so much with so little. That being said, it didn't quite terrify me in a way that invaded my nightmares (that evening, my dreams involved The Omega Man, Step Up, and a communal steak) but it caught my breath more than once and ultimately held me in a state of nerves for most of its running time. A satisfying, well-made thriller that every genre fan should indeed seek out. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

You Ain't Nothing But a HorrorHound Dog, but that's a lot to be

Sorry if the action has been a tad slow here at the Doll’s House, but it apparently takes me about a full week to truly recover from the land of great supermarkets and people, aka Cincinnati HorrorHound Weekend 2010! 

Oh yeah. I was there with friends or as I like to call them, Kickass Internet SuperStars (aka the new KISS, sans pesky cake makeup)

I mean, look at that gang of sexy powerhouses! Among the talent inside that hotel lounge (which we totally trashed/left a few beer bottles in like the rock stars we are) are naughty Night of the Living Podcasters Amy, Freddy, & Andy; Movie Meltdown(ing) Marlena; my movie swap blogging cohort T.L. Bugg and his lovely wife; Family Movie Night's Doctor J; the gentlemanly Will & Sam U. Rai of The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnight Cinema; camp director extraordinaire/Internet Fairy Godfather Randy; new pals Ken & Justin; Paracinema-niacs Christine & Dylan; Canadian superhero Vishnu; and the man the myth the baby-eating legend, Mattsuzaka.

And speaking of this particular cool cat, remember to follow my top sidebar link to vote EVERY DAY for him and his kidney donating superlady to win a dream wedding. It's easy. It's breezy. It's karmatically rewarding and your duty as a human being.

I don't quite know where to start (or did I already do that?) in recapping such a fabulous trip, so let's let the pictures tell the story...

There was cheese shaped like monkeys and parrots...

Dean Cameron's eyebrows

Unidentifiable animals dressed like Elvis

A camera-ready Jason and a Glee foam hand

A mushy faced killer klown and a mushier faced me

Both of whom were seen shopping at the Classy Flea Market

(like all the cool kids)

and of course, the greatest band since The Beatles

Also, some of us got haunted

Even in the PAST!

Elsewhere in Ohio, I learned that waitresses are fabulous, separate checks are miraculously standard, Meg Foster is really tan, Linda Blair is still really tiny, tasers are ineffective but also annoying when they amass crowds in crowded rooms, and doorways are smeared with a magical concoction that wards off evil, just like in Demon Knight. As a downside, the doorways in Ohio are incredibly stinky. 

Billy Zane, on the other hand, remains superior.

Thanks goes to all the lovely people mentioned above, plus the lovely Ashlee of www.buriedinabookcrypt.blogspot.com for being my roomie and surviving both my sleep ramblings and snores.

For those who care about the actual convention-ing, let me recommend HorrorHound's show. It was incredibly well-run, with a nice selection and placement of guests and film screenings. I was lucky enough to spend a little time at Cincy's own Night of the Living Podcast booth (complete with the secret Mystery Date door) where I got to record a few minutes of rambling with the lovely Amy. Download their extravaganzarific special episode for our chitchat on everything from The Brady Bunch to bucket lists and an additional 3 more hours(!!!) of interviews with other roaming HorrorHounders.

Next show is in March in Indianapolis, with a supreme guest list already posted (lots o' Killer Klowns, Boondock Saints who are nowhere near worthy of sharing a room with Killer Klowns, and some weird looking Italian dude who looks like the incestuous son in Burial Ground). 

You know the one.

In closing, thank you to all the HorrorHounders for making this weekend one of the biggest blasts (in a good way) I've ever had. Those who weren't there were missed. Those who weren't there are ordered to be so next fall. Until then, hearts, hugs, kisses, and slaps in the face if you don't go here to vote for Matt & Liz.