Archive for February 24, 2006

Carnival of souls

February 24, 2006

In the words of Monty Python, “Right!”

This excites me more than I can say: The Horror Channel reports that Michele Soavi’s absolutely brilliant absurdist horror film Cemetery Man is primed for DVD release this June, courtesy of horror-fan godsend Anchor Bay. Also known as Della’morte Dell’amore, this erotic, surreal, disturbing, hilarious, and deeply moving movie is one of the most singular horror-watching experiences I’ve ever had. I wrote about it extensively here. For me, this is a DVD release that’ll be tough for any other film to top this year.

While they’re strangely silent on whether its vision was motion-activated (you win, Crichton and Spielberg…for now), it appears that scientists have confirmed that the Tyrannosaurus Rex had keen senses of hearing and smell. There seems to be some dispute about whether these findings (gleaned via CT scan) indicate that the T.Rex had excellent balance as well–if it did, that would lend credence to the notion that it was a predator (as we all learned when we were in swaddling clothes) rather than a scavenger (as boring, stuffy old scientist killjoys would currently have us believe).

Bloody Disgusting brings us a pair of reasons to be wary of horror remakes (and once again, damn you, Dawn of the Dead, for being good and making it impossible for me to have a hard and fast rule against going to see the effing things at all): Wicker Man remake actress Christa Campbell reveals that the island to which Nic Cage’s character will travel is populated entirely by women, while a poster for the remake of Day of the Dead is emblazoned with the legend “FROM THE DIRECTOR OF HALLOWEEN H20.” Sigh.

Finally, god bless Bryan Alexander of Infocult for bringing my attention to an article in which scientists theorize that parallel universes aren’t parallel at all, but rather may interact–AND DESTROY ONE ANOTHER!!!! I take back everything I said about scientists a few paragraphs up. Scientists are AWESOME.


February 21, 2006

Well, maybe Zombi 2 was good for something after all–I had a wicked zombie nightmare last night, or at the very least a work-anxiety dream disguised as a zombie nightmare. My co-workers and their significant others and I were all trapped inside a big white house with tons of windows, beseiged by hungry undead. I spent the whole dream frantically trying to get people organized to close and seal windows and doors in rooms we’d forgotten about. I kept looking for the guns I’d stashed someplace but a bunch of guys who’d been at my work longer than I have took them all and were using them themselves. At one point one guy and his girlfriend were sitting with their backs to a picture window, which zombies then shattered, pulling the guy and his girlfriend outside and tearing the skin and muscle from their backs. I remember thinking even in the dream, “Well, it just goes to show you, never sit with your back to a window when zombies are attacking.”

So thank you, Zombi 2–your genuinely frightening zombies worked a lot better in my unbearably tense unsconscious drama than they did in your boring-ass movie. Though if I’m being honest, I reread a bunch of The Walking Dead yesterday too, so that probably had something to do with it as well.

I finally saw Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2

February 20, 2006

Was it me, or did that movie totally stink? Forty minutes of dull all-but-zombieless opening. Four dull, one-dimensional protagonists, at least two of whom are played by people who couldn’t emote their way out of a wet paper bag. Virtually no logic behind anyone’s actions (for chrissakes, the doctor and nurse and caretaker guy are caught by surprise by their dead patients coming back to life at the end–like they’d never seen it happen before!) or reality behind anyone’s emotions (when the wife of the dude who looked like Mike Love died, within five minutes they were acting like she was a pet hamster) at all. Nude scenes so completely gratuitous they weren’t even enjoyable as nude scenes. Voodoo rituals and an angry native community completely vital to the plot yet never ever shown even once. An ending that could almost literally have been phoned in. I didn’t even like the two most famous scenes: the shark fight just made me feel bad for the shark the filmmakers must have abused to get that footage, and the splinter-in-the-eye scene was so fake-looking I was actually embarrassed for them. I have no idea why either scene garnered the reputation it has.

To be fair, the zombie make-up was extraordinary and the gore powerful. And the scene of the zombies literally rising from the grave was beautifully done–vivid and wrong, and therefore horrifying. But that alone, my friends, does not a good movie make. Gee willikers, what a turkey.

Carnival of souls

February 18, 2006

Jaws author Peter Benchley has died. I remember the novel very fondly: Every summer when my parents would go away on vacation they’d leave my siblings and I with my aunt and uncle in Delaware, and I’d read their copy of the novel while my little brother played the Jaws Nintendo game in the basement. I loved the sea monster; I loved the flawed grown-up characters as they lied and misbehaved, making the monster’s work all the easier; I loved the sex stuff even though I didn’t get all of it. Slate’s Bryan Curtis turns a slightly more jaundiced eye on the book, which he gently mocks for its unreconstructed pulpiness but praises for the way it constructs a singular and vivid monster out of sheer marine-biological accuracy.

Heidi MacDonald points us to this L.A. City Beat interview with Black Hole author Charles Burns. (I’ll shut up about this book when it stops being one of the four or five greatest graphic novels of all time.) Among the points of interest is a funny look at the pros and cons of placing your fiction in a relatable, recognizable period setting, in Burns’s case 1974.

Stacie Ponder at Final Girl posts some fascinating pictures of a character named Pyramid Head from the upcoming Silent Hill video-game-to-film adaptation. The character is genuinely Barkerian; this, along with those creepy girl-with-no-mouth teaser images, makes this the first video-game horror film I’m even remotely interested in seeing. (I know nothing about the game other than it’s supposed to be pretty scary.)

Brian at Giant Monster Blog sings the, uh, praises? of the Toho film King Kong Escapes, a true Saturday Afternoon Cinema classic. One word, people: MechaniKong!

Finally, given everything I’ve been talking about around here lately, Wednesday’s torturiffic installment of Lost (here’s a good summary at The Lost Blog) was certainly thematically appropriate. As an episode, though, it didn’t work for me. We already knew that Sayid is a torturer, that torture is awful and dehumanizing to all involved parties, that Hurley is nice and Sawyer is not, and that the presence of both the Others and the countdown clock are making everyone into paranoid basket-cases. All we got that was new is the most predictable possible reversal in terms of when Sayid became a torturer (one saved from genuine ridiculousness (“everything would have been fine here in the Republican Guard if it weren’t for those pesky Yankees!”) only by real life’s troubling penchant for proving our most horrifying fictions true); a new is-he-or-isn’t-he-an-Other situation, of which we’ve already had several; and some fanservice cameos and hieroglyphics. Whoop-dee-doo.

More evil

February 13, 2006

Regular readers are no doubt bored by how often this comes up, but the ramifications of the cinema of extra-legal revenge hit me every day, from a fistfight I saw break out over a person who had 12 items in a 10-or-fewer shopping line (the affronted party went on a near rampage to see justice done) to the righteous avengers who flew planes into the World Trade Center.

–David Edelstein, “The Movie Club 2005,”

Needless to say the ruminations on brutality in art of a man willing to overlook the, how can I put this, shit-stupid obvious sources of philosophical and aesthetic inspiration for the 9/11 attackers in favor of casting blame on Dirty Harry should be taken with the contents of an entire salt mine. But my friend Matt Wiegle (of “Destructor Comes to Croc Town” fame) wrote in after my post on what brutal art says and doesn’t say to point out that Edelstein has written an essay on pop culture’s new torture vogue for his new gig as New York magazine’s film critic, and insofar as it gets right to the heart of the matter–whether such things are aimed at the audience by filmmakers who feel they know better–it’s interesting stuff, so I’m passing the link along to you.

Evil for thee, not me

February 11, 2006

(Apologies in advance for any lack of coherence in the following post: I’m up in the middle of the night, semi-delirious from both the flu and NyQuil.)

A week or two ago, while thinking of movies like Saw and Hostel, I wondered aloud:

At what point does violence for violence’s sake cease to be a form of spectacle that reveals occulted meaning and become a sort of pornographic brutalization of the audience? Just a thought.

A few days ago Stacie Ponder found an article at the Delaware Journal asking much the same question: “Torture scenes go mainstream.” The article quotes Hostel director Eli Roth on the larger “meaning” of his film.

Some creators of torture-tinged projects say there is a message behind the madness, insisting that that they are illuminating larger themes and using torture to enrich their storytelling.

“Hostel” writer and director Eli Roth said he chose torture scenes to express his frustration over government and world affairs.

“Right now we’re at war, and then you have Hurricane Katrina, where there are people on roofs screaming for help,” said Roth. “I have this feeling that civilization could collapse, and that if you go overseas, you could get killed, that you could be in the middle of nowhere, and that someone could kill you and no one would find you. This film is also about the dark side of human nature. Everyone’s life has a price. I want the audience to feel guilty. I want them to feel sick to their stomach, but by the end they’re screaming for blood. Everyone has this evil within them.”

You’ll note that in Roth’s equation, a lot of different people (from the Bush Administration to horror-movie fans) are supposed to feel bad about themselves thanks to his movie; you’ll also note that Roth himself does not appear to be one of them. (UPDATE, in the cold light of morning: I’m still semi-incoherent so again my apologies, but am I too hard on Roth? I don’t really think so. Yes, he does say “Everyone has this evil within them” (emph. mine), but that’s as close as he comes to including himself in his opprobrium; his film seems to be squarely aimed at other, external targets, to judge from his quotes in the article.)

I found this interesting because I was already thinking about the effects of and intentions behind violence and evil in art this very afternoon when, excited for next month’s debut of the sixth season of The Sopranos, I watched the final two episodes of Season Five on DVD. I was instantly reminded of Slate’s mob-expert roundtable discussion of the series, which culminated in part in the discussion of the possible “meaning” behind Tony Soprano’s conduct. Lawyer Gerald Shargel (who famously represented John Gotti, among other Mafia clients) starts the discussion:

…once again, I see Mafia as metaphor. When Tony turns to Silvio Dante and says, “You don’t know what it’s like to be No. 1,” later telling Dr. Melfi that “all my choices were wrong,” I couldn’t help but think of Bush bursting into Iraq without an endgame, finding himself in an impossible mess. Tony knocks off his cousin Tony B.; Bush is forced to knock off George Tenet. Isn’t this the way of all failed leaders? Hubris and arrogance play rough.

Slate TV and film critic Dana Stevens concurs.

One more response to Shargel’s note: The Tony-as-Bush allegory only works up to a point because Tony’s smart and charismatic, a born leader. (Also, arguably, more morally conflicted than our president. How sad is that?)

However, New York/New Yorker/New York Times Magazine organized crime reporter Jeffrey Goldberg differs. After his suggestion that Stevens’ unfavorable comparison of Bush’s conduct in Iraq with Soprano’s conduct in the North Jersey rackets is not entirely fair is met with dismissal, he continues:

God forbid we should keep politics out of television criticism. Wait until you hear my Marxian critique of Gilmore Girls. What I was suggesting, inelegantly, was that not everything is about Iraq. Sometimes, a show about the New Jersey mob is a show about the New Jersey mob. Yes, of course, The Sopranos goes deeper, and darker, than any other drama on television (and darker, I’d argue, for argument’s sake, than even The Godfather), but I don’t see it as a ripped-from-the-headlines metaphoric commentary on whatever is bothering liberal American elites at the moment. And yes, of course, gangland dramas are always about something else as well

Carnival of souls

February 11, 2006

Wow, I’ve got to wake up in the middle of the night nearly out of my head from flu and meds more often! I’m getting some long-overdue blogging done, and I’m lovin’ every minute of it!

First up, I’ve done some thinkblogging of the sort I rarely get around to these days, about the role and “meaning” of brutality in art. It was engendered by Stacy Ponder of the very fine Final Girl and her discovery of and musings on this Delaware Journal article on torture scenes in recent popular films and TV shows. Recommended reading. And for an object lesson in the kind of thing I’m talking about, I’d suggest perusing both Slate film critic David Edelstein’s Best of 2005 piece and the critics’ roundtable he leads as well.

On a not unrelated note, Jog the Blog walks the cultural condescension beat and catches Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman in full these-crazy-kids-and-their-rock-and-roll mode over Final Destination 3. It’s a highly amusing get-together between fish, a barrel, and some bullets, even if (as I suspect) the movie’s deeply so-so.

In happy happy happy news, M. Valdemar is blogging again! He’s forsaken his old digs and begun a new blog called Thump Thump. Expect bumps in the night.

Lots going on on the book beat. First, Dark But Shining links to this in-depth interview with Black Hole writer-artist Charles Burns by Peter Breedveld. I find Burns’s take on his masterpiece fascinatingly direct and unpretentious; moreover, it gives me an excuse to run art like this.

(More Bowie in a moment.)

Also between the covers is Louis Sytsma of Horror Reader, who links to Stephen King’s podcast on the story behind his new techno-zombie book Cell, which I still haven’t gotten around to picking up from the library. Slate columnist Bryan Curtis’s piece on the cellphone as a locus for horror in American slasher films, the Asian horror wave, and, of course, King’s book was also up my alley.

Meanwhile, ADDTF’s favorite author Clive Barker is the subject of a lengthy interview at Newsarama, conducted by comics company IDW’s Publisher and E.I.C. Chris Ryall, who’s adapting Barker’s novel The Great and Secret Show into funnybook form. In other Barker news, Pete Mesling at Fearfodder links to the Horror Channel’s report that Shrek 2 codirector Kelly Asbury will be involved with the filmic adaptation of Barker’s The Thief of Always. Finally, I happily conducted my own interview with Barker on Wednesday; hopefully you’ll be seeing the results over the next couple of months.

Everyone knows this by now I suppose, but the kid in me who watched Destroy All Monsters on WPIX channel 11 on many a happy Saturday afternoon would be remiss if he didn’t mention the sad news that Akira Ifukube, composer of the music for the Godzilla series, has died. Unsurprisingly, Giant Monster Blog has the most in-depth take on the news; Heidi MacDonald at The Beat pays perhaps the best tribute possible by linking to an mp3 of Ifukube’s absolutely unforgettable “Four Monsters Attack Tokyo.” I hadn’t heard it in years, and I remembered every note.

On a similarly musical note (groan), I’ll wrap things up in non-horror fashion: Christopher Bahn at Incoming Signals links to this loooooooong Lester Bangs interview with/article on Brian Eno. Aside from the obvious pleasures of reading Bangs on Eno, there’s much fun to be had seeing where Bangs’s take on Eno’s work diverges both from your own and from today’s critical consensus; for example, Bangs favors Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) to the now more highly regarded (and deservedly so, IMHO) Here Come the Warm Jets; he writes off Eno’s classic collaborations with Bowie; and he dismisses Devo almost entirely. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to know what Lester Bangs thought of Robert Fripp’s guitar solo on Brian Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire,” then this is for you, my friend. (After all, if you are that kind of person, you are most likely my friend.)

Dead tree alert

February 9, 2006

The March issue of Giant Magazine is out, and in addition to being an excellent example of why it’s the best magazine in the world (there’s a massive photo spread on the cast of Scrubs), it contains several things I wrote: an interview with DC Comics Senior VP/Executive Editor Dan DiDio about the big Infinite Crisis/One Year Later/52 mega-event trifecta, a brief plug of Julie Doucet’s My Most Secret Desire, and a review of Paul Chadwick’s fine new graphic novel Concrete: The Human Dilemma, which you can read by clicking on that link. It’s a terrific magazine–you really oughta subscribe.

The Lost World

February 7, 2006

No dinosaurs, giant spiders, or 25-foot apes yet, but still pretty fascinating: Scientists have discovered dozens of new species of everything from birds to kangaroos in a swath of jungle the size of Rhode Island in Indonesia. The area was heretofore unexplored even by the indigenous human population nearby, and is described by one of the scientists in the article linked above as “as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth.” I find it so thrilling that such places still exist, don’t you?

Carnival of souls

February 2, 2006

It’s a meeting of the comics-with-crossover-appeal minds: Heidi MacDonald reports that Sandman creator Neil Gaiman and his Beowulf collaborator Roger Avary are on tap to write the screenplay adaptation of Charles Burns’s graphic-novel horror masterpiece Black Hole, aka the book I will never, ever shut up about. I must confess that I’m all but completely ignorant of Gaiman’s work–you can’t read everything, you know?–but he is obviously a talented writer, as well as respectful (to say the least) of the comics medium, so a lot of my fears about adapting one of the four or five best comics of all time to the screen just evaporated. The movie’s to be directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes); you can read more about Gaiman’s potential involvement on his blog. And you should buy the book.

Speaking of genre gone legit, Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours and the excellent Flesh and Blood, has written a genre novel called Specimen Days, which alternately tackles horror, crime, and sci-fi. This was brought to my attention by Bookgasm’s Rod Lott, who didn’t think much of the book. Still, I’m intrigued.

Finally, turn your friends into zombies in just 11 easy steps! With photoshop, of course. What am I, Dr. Frankenstein? (Link courtesy of Bibi.)

Obey your Masters

February 1, 2006

I finally got around to getting the TiVo to record some Masters of Horror episodes today. Lucky for me, the episodes available were the two I was most interested in seeing: John Carpenter’s well-received (at least I think it was, since I’ve only been half-paying attention) Cigarette Burns and the Clive Barker-based Haeckel’s Tale. We shall see.