Monday, December 14, 2009

Final Girl Film Club: Welcome, fool

I recently introduced a good friend to "The Wicker Man" (1973), starring Christopher Lee (above) and the late Ed Woodward. "You'll love it," I promised. "It's creepy, it's witty, it's got a gorgeous setting, and it has songs!" Well, she hated it. "It wasn't scary," she complained, "and it was just weird."

But the "weirdness" is the point. This is like no other horror movie. Sure, the mood throughout is maybe more unsettling or peculiar than scary (I still think "creepy" applies). But even if you know the ending -- and unfortunately pretty much everyone does --the fun of this movie is in the getting there. What other movie gives you a sweet-faced matron popping a frog into her tiny daughter's mouth? ("He's got your horrid sore throat now!") Or Christopher Lee singing a bawdy duet with Sean Connery's ex-wife? Or malevolent villagers in fish masks?

The soundtrack for this movie just rocks my face off. I vigorously recommend downloading yourself a copy. "Willow's Song" (covered elsewhere as "How Do") is really quite pretty, and it's lots of fun to roll down your car windows and sing along with "The Tinker of Rye." ("For patching and plugging is his delight! His work goes forward day and night!") I'm also fond of the opening music, based on Robert Burns' "The Highland Widow's Lament." There's a very informative page about the music here.

I refused to watch this movie for many years because of the ending. It still really gets to me; when Woodward sees the "man" and screams "Oh God, oh Jesus Christ!" something way deep in my reptile brain just goes ice cold. Maybe having an evangelical-Christian background makes the idea of a martyr's death particularly chilling (much like having a Catholic background does for stuff like "The Exorcist"). There's something about Christopher Lee just standing there letting it happen, and he knows it's just for show, and Woodward knows he knows that: he's about to die in agony for no reason at all, and all the Psalms in the world can't bring him any comfort. Brr! Turning on all the lights won't help. But "Summer Is Icumen In" is a damn catchy bonfire song.

This post is for the Final Girl Film Club, where Stacie has created an excellent cartoon review of the film. Don't miss it!

Hooded cultists

A Sarracenia (North American pitcher plant) cultivar, called Ladybug. See the little translucent windows in the back of the pitcher hoods? The light disorients insects and keeps them from being able to fly right back out of the trap. Eventually they fall into the pitcher to their deaths. Clever girl!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Separated at birth?

This utterly fabulous, terrifyingly blank-faced jack-o'-lantern, carved by one of my neighbors.....

..... and Baghead Jason from Friday the 13th Part II!
God do I love October.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Light housecleaning

Just tidying up a tiny bit in here. Like a lot of bloggers I'm now on Facebook a lot (unlike a lot of bloggers, I am not really involved with Twitter) and so the old website has been fairly neglected. I do want to keep posting about scary movies, though -- damn it, I like them, and I like reading what other people have to say about them! So the blog will be staying alive.

At right is now a full archive of all my movie posts over the years! Not all of them are scary, but most of them are. My goodness I have seen a lot of movies. (This feeling is a nice contrast to the way I usually feel looking at, say, my Netflix queue: "my God, I haven't seen ANYTHING. Will 'Whispering Corridors' never get here?") I have also consolidated my "Friday the 13th" liveblog, a gimmick cooked up in honor of a Final Girl blogathon, into a single post for anyone who might be interested in that sort of thing.

I'm working on the blogroll... there's a slew of gorgeous horror blogs that I regularly read and want to add, but being me I'm dithering about whether they should get their own section, or just go under "People" or is that too many people, or what. Also, it feels strangely quaint to even be thinking about a blogroll.... very 2002. Dither dither. I might update the layout too, although I'm hoping the ancient Blogger layout will just come around the other side and be all cool and vintage. No?

Anyway, that's what's going on. Also, "Whispering Corridors" just arrived, so stay tuned if you're into that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A farewell to arms

(Normally I would ask someone to smack me for that subject heading, but it's OK because of "Evil Dead 2.")

There's a pile of classic horror in my Netflix queue, and last night I kicked it off with Tod Browning's "The Unknown" from 1927, starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford. (In the Chaneyesque spirit of transformation, Crawford in this movie pretty much looks like every other 1920s actress, with her sleek bob and narrow lips. I would never have recognized her.) I first read about this movie in David J. Skal's wonderful "Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween"; Skal is fascinated by Browning, who of course also directed the carnival classic "Freaks" as well as a little something called "Dracula." In "The Unknown," Chaney plays Alonzo the Armless, a Madrid circus performer adept at throwing knives and lighting cigarettes with his toes, and smitten with Crawford's sexy Nanon. But Alonzo has a secret -- two secrets! Not only is he not really armless, but he's hiding in the circus because he's a notorious criminal, and the armless act is the perfect way to conceal his distinctive double thumb -- which leaves a notable mark on all his strangulation victims. The armless act is also useful because Nanon has a particular horror of grabby men, and she finds Alonzo appealing because, as she shyly tells him, "You're the only man I can turn to without fear." Circus strongman Malabar (played by Norman Kerry, Raoul from "The Phantom of the Opera") scampers around after Nanon with his arms out, but she will have none of him.

Like every movie monster, Alonzo is brought down by his affection for the beautiful woman, in a series of utterly unbelievable and awesome plot twists. A secret midnight surgery is performed! A dramatic change of heart takes place! The climax involves a pair of rampaging horses on treadmills! This movie just has to be seen to be believed.

I don't suppose it's necessary to say that Lon Chaney is amazing, but you just can't take your eyes off him, whether he's making eyes at Nanon or grouchily kicking his feet up to light himself a cigarette. When he realizes his evil (and insanely elaborate) scheme has backfired on him, the camera never leaves his face as he passes through heartrending shock, grief and rage, finally ending in deranged, mocking laughter. "Look!" says the oblivious Nanon: "Alonzo is laughing at the way things have happened!" You're laughing in disbelief too, but Chaney makes you feel for the man. My dashing Spanish hat is off to him. Netflix this, people.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

In which most of the cast melts

Wikipedia's article about "The Devil's Rain" (1975) has an arresting opener: "The film is remembered primarily for its over-long and drawnout ending, in which most of the cast melts." Yes, yes, but check out the cast: William Shatner. Ernest Borgnine (as a Satanic priest who occasionally morphs into the Beast himself!). Ida Lupino, whoever that is. Tom Skerritt. Eddie Albert. John Travolta, even! It was a lovely choice for the Final Girl Film Club and I am so happy to have resurrected the blog in time to join in.

The plot concerns a family -- brothers Shatner & Skerritt and their parents, who do not survive the movie for long -- and the Secret Book it is concealing from Satanic preacher Borgnine. As Borgnine tries to get the book back, he seizes the souls of various family members and replaces them with waxen-faced, empty-eyed cultists. Yipes! The souls themselves evidently go into a little sort of aquarium, in which it is always raining. I had not envisioned hell as being particularly rainy, but whatever. Eventually there is a Confrontation and the promised melting takes place -- there goes the wax, I suppose.

Director Robert Fuest (who ended his feature-film career with this movie) also made "The Abominable Dr. Phibes," which I watched a couple months ago and quite enjoyed. The films have a few things in common: a glacial pace, hammy leading performances and an epic sense of composition. Set largely in a ghost town with a creepy New England-style chapel ("This doesn't belong here"!), this movie has some gorgeous vistas of sunlit mountains and wind-blasted trees. The scenery doesn't help the movie much, but it's nice to look at while you're waiting for something to happen.

My favorite thing about this movie is the crackling chemistry between Shatner and Borgnine as they face each other down on that ghost town's main street, each vying for dominance of the screen. Every look says, "No, I can overact more!" and these men are serious. They purr, hiss, snarl, arch their backs, strut, and eventually just launch themselves at each other. These two need to be in every movie. They could power a town glaring at each other.

Actually, that's just my second favorite thing. My real favorite thing -- spoiler-- comes after Shatner tumbles before Borgnine's maniacal, goat-horned splendor and becomes a cultist himself. Shatner's face becomes waxen. His eyes are blacked out. His expression is vacant. Three years after "The Devil's Rain," this face will become famous...

And then, of course, at the end, everyone melts. And melts. And melts. It's actually pretty creepy looking; I could sort of sympathize with Fuest, thinking "no, THIS one is the most horrible; I have to get THIS in too." I also thought about the "Chubby Rain" scenes from "Bowfinger"; surely they were inspired by this film.

While the faces are melting, you can contemplate the film's remarkable tagline: "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain." What is this even supposed to mean? How could one edit it into coherence? I occasionally get sentences like this from reporters, and I just take them out, but I guess the poster would look silly with no words on it at all. What can you expect from a movie in which Borgnine, in an exciting Puritan-era flashback, addresses a crowd of underground satanists as "thee"? That's a singular pronoun, silly! (Spoiler note: This flashback ends with Borgnine's character being burned at the stake, except instead of being tied to it, he sort of lounges next to it as if it were a hitching post. What a badass!)

There is much fun to be had here on many levels. Make yourself a nice big pitcher of martinis (two pitchers if a friend is over), kick back and enjoy the face-melting fun. Heaven help us all when The Final Girl Film Club!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

'Halloween is a powerful trigger point for you'

*opens windows, blows dust off blog... coughs violently, having briefly forgotten powerful allergy to dust*

um. Hello! Is anyone still here? Lord, this place looks as bad as the old Myers house.

Well, it has been a lovely summer break, but here in LA the days are growing shorter, the shadows are beginning to lengthen and the fragrance of wood smoke is in the air -- ok, that would be due to the immense and horrible fire continuing to burn above the city. Still, summer is clearly drawing to a close, meaning horror-movie season is about to return. Of course, around here it never really stops.

Rob Zombie's "Halloween" remake was so ballyhooed -- I had mixed feelings about it but thought it was an interesting exercise, if nothing else -- that I felt bad for this one, sneaking into theaters without any advance reviews or any love. And then I heard Margot Kidder was in it. So the ever-patient Art Boy and I gave it a shot, and WOW. It's a hoot and a half, people. It's bizarre, sure, and it's hampered by awkward Rob Zombie dialogue, and a lot of it doesn't make any sense, but it is *never* boring. And it looks great. It's got the same gorgeously worn, lived-in patina as all Zombie's movies, making it feel beautifully raw, almost "Texas Chain Saw Massacre"-style. I had to run out for a minute when a dog got killed (I had to pee anyway, so it worked out) but otherwise I was just glued to the screen.

What helps a lot is that Zombie's not remaking a classic this time. The action starts, like the first "Halloween II" did, later the same night, with Michael reappearing to wreak some hospital havoc. But things move forward fairly quickly, and from then on, it's an entirely new movie. It's a huge relief to bid the specter of Jamie Lee Curtis farewell and just enjoy the performances on their own terms. Yeah, performances -- I kinda dug Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie this time around. The girl is a great screamer! And Brad Dourif is quite subdued and heartbreaking as the long-suffering Sheriff Brackett, to whose little town Death is about to return. All he wants is to protect Laurie and his daughter, but we all know how well that's going to go. (The girl who plays Annie, inexplicably allowed to survive the last film, is fine, but it's hard not to think about Nancy Loomis and how great the first sequel would've been with her.) And of course Malcolm McDowell is back as Dr. Loomis, chewing the scenery even more maniacally than before.

Most of the action takes place a year later. Laurie is living with Annie & Sheriff Brackett, who are both incredibly protective of her and feed her healthy breakfasts even after she keeps them up nights screaming in her sleep. Her therapist (Margot Kidder!) helps her work through her grief over her parents and cautions her that she'll have a lot to deal with, emotionally, as Halloween rolls around, bringing the first anniversary of Michael's massacre. Laurie still doesn't know she's Michael's biological sister... but Dr. Loomis, who has once again morphed into a self-obsessed celebrity author, is about to come out with a tell-all book that might destroy Laurie's peace of mind forever! Oh noes!

Well, the movie doesn't build up much tension about that. And you're not really afraid of Michael, either -- he'll show up and stab someone every few minutes, but that's just what he does. Yet somehow this movie just never stops being entertaining. Rob Zombie's slices of domestic life are, once again, a hoot; as Laurie sulks around the Brackett house in her black T-shirt and eyeliner, with her Alice Cooper posters, you imagine Zombie thinking wistfully "Here's the daughter I never had." Malcolm McDowell is, of all things, the comic relief -- snarling at interviewers and reluctantly sharing talk-show space with Weird Al Yankovic (whom he addresses as "Mr. Weird"). Yes, there's Weird Al. There's also Sheri Moon Zombie as a ghost, leading a white horse. What is up with that? This movie makes no sense. And yet it is never boring, right up to the "Psycho"-inspired finale. It's the perfect summer slasher film. I can't believe I'm saying this, but don't miss it.

Another reluctant admirer is over at BloodyDisgusting.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Vacation tally

Sunburns: 0 (yes!)

Victorious light-saber battles with nephew: 2

Non-victorious: approximately 79

Weddings attended: 1

Age of primary dancing partner at reception for said wedding: 18 months

Fried oysters consumed: 3 dozen

Crab species spotted: 6 (fiddler, hermit, ghost, sand, spider, blue)

Number of times fire extinguisher deployed: 1

Number of adult books spilled out of hiding place by kittens in absence and reshelved by cat sitter: 3

It is good to be home.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Final Girl Film Club - Amityville II: The Possession

I've got a bad feeling about this ...

Normally I'm kind of a completist -- I don't watch sequels or remakes without having seen the originals, and I never start a book series in the middle. I just like to know what's going on. (I also sleep with the lights on, but that's another story. Or is it?) So watching "Amityville II: The Possession" was an unusual experience for me, since it's a sequel to a movie I've never seen, based on a book I haven't read, and part of a horror franchise that I have no experience with at all. But I hadn't really heard good things about the other movies, or really about any of the books... still, this was for the Final Girl Film Club, which has not yet failed to introduce me to something new and interesting ("Phenomenon," for example). And anyway, "Amityville II" is actually a prequel, so there you go.

As I understand it, in the first movie Margot Kidder and her family move into a house where Something Awful Once Happened, and at the end they leave. The sequel/prequel covers the Something Awful that Happened, which apparently really did happen: Ronald DeFeo Jr., 23, shot and killed his parents and siblings in their home one night in 1974. "Amityville II" cheerfully changes the family's name to Monelli, then gussies up the story with extra gizmos, including demonic possession, Indian burial ground and incest.

Despite the ludicrous trappings, the first two-thirds of the movie are pretty straightforward: The Monelli family moves into a new house. They fight. The eldest son goes increasingly berserk and eventually out comes the shotgun. Knowing what's going to happen, it's just sickening to watch the tension build. Is it the house turning them on each other, or just amplifying their familial dysfunction? Although the movie's trappings are supernatural, the performances are good enough that all the characters seem organic. The father (Burt Young, who is indeed repellent) is a brute; his wife treats him coldly; the youngest children are scared. And poor Diane Franklin is terrifyingly vulnerable as the older sister. (I didn't even recognize her as the brilliant, mostly-silent comedienne from "Better Off Dead.") This is a family with real problems; the Indian burial ground in the basement is just decoration.

The family slaughter scene pretty well caps the movie; afterward there's some business about exorcism involving The Worst Priest in the World (who dashes out the door at the first sign of unpleasantness, then responds to Diane Franklin's pitiful pleas for aid by leaving on a camping trip). But the money scene is Sonny stalking through the dark house with his shotgun, hunting his family down one at a time. His surviving siblings huddle at the bottom of the stairs, unable to escape (you can't escape from family, after all), watching helplessly as his shadowy figure approaches and raises the weapon. They can't even scream. It's your very worst childhood nightmares come to life, and no amount of satanic trappings can keep that from being scary.

So thanks for the nightmares, Final Girl! I vote for something with maggots next time!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Sorry, gentle readers, I got nothin' lately. And I'm off to Nashvegas in the morning so the situation is unlikely to be remedied. I've been outside a lot lately -- here are some photos of my friendly neighborhood Griffith Park, here's the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, and here is the unsettling Arthur Ripley Desert Woodland State Park. Many pictures of poppies and Joshua trees and strangely contorted desert flora!

When I get back, there will be posts about horror movies in which women are insane -- or are they? ("Cat People," "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," "Repulsion"); about the tomatoes growing on my garage roof and the carnivorous pitcher plants sprouting around my compost bin; and probably about the ongoing adorableness of my niece and nephew. I also aim to get back in gear and write a post for the next Final Girl Film Club, which will mean viewing the sequel to "The Amityville Horror," a film I have no previous experience with whatsoever but Final Girl has steered me well thus far. (By which I mean she shares my love of "Pieces."

I am going to try to avoid writing about the kittens, but below is their most adorable picture. There are more here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Carnivorous plants in the Onion

In photo: a lovely Sarracenia flower from a couple years ago. Multiple Sarraceniae are getting ready to flower again under my stairs. Perhaps you lucky readers will get to see pictures!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I leave it entirely in your hands

Well, actually, I don't; I'm going to make you all sit here and listen to me blather on about the "Watchmen" movie. Hah! Lord, what a suspenseful few years waiting for this thing to get made, wondering if it was going to be any good, actually watching bits of "300" when it came on TV to try and get an idea of what director Zack Snyder might do with it. In the last few months, as the hype started to really build, I just stopped worrying. A bad "Watchmen" movie could no more affect the book than a bad novelization of "Citizen Kane" would affect that movie. It just doesn't need to be a movie. The movie doesn't matter.

So going into it with that outlook, the movie was pretty damn good. Thanks to Zack Snyder and his obsessive fanboy devotion to the source material, every scene has the right look. The cast does a nice job -- I particularly loved Patrick Wilson as Dan and Malin Akerman as Laurie, both of whom mixed vulnerability with their butt-kicking superherodom. They get the most emotional moments, which isn't saying much. It's a very cold movie. Still, they manage.

A bunch of scenes translate really well. The prison riot rocks, beginning with Jackie Earle Haley snarling, "I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me." Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian in Vietnam are just fantastic. Archie looked great. The opening credits have been justly praised -- they give you a perfect sense of scale. (I missed the gay subplot between Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice, but hey, hot Silhouette action.)

What was the deal of having Laurie be a nonsmoker, though? That seemed like an oddly priggish change. I always like the bit where she mistakes the flame-thrower for a cigarette lighter. I guess designing her little smokes-of-the-future was too much of a challenge.

My big beef is with Ozymandias. Playing him as a sneering, effete fop is just not quite right. He needs to be smart but he cannot be unlikeable, at least not before the very end. I guess a bunch of his scenes got cut out, hopefully including poor Bubastis, who shows up just long enough for you to be able to check her off your faithful-to-the-source-material checklist. But the actor plays him as an obnoxious little weenie. It ain't right.

I'm also not crazy about the non-giant-squid resolution. It's not so much the squid -- I willingly concede that it would have looked silly -- but the squid was meant to be an extraterrestrial attack that would cut the Gordian knot of international conflict. Having the resolution be not only terrestrial-based but ALLIED with the U.S. is just not the same. Having the disaster be an international one doesn't help it make sense. And then you only see one world leader declaring peace at the end (that distractingly awful Nixon). It's not as satisfying.

But, you know, whatever. It's not the book. In line to buy popcorn I mentioned to Art Boy (I can't remember how this came up, but he was appalled) that in the novelization of "The Empire Strikes Back," Han doesn't tell Leia "I know." Apparently the author was bugged by that line so he wrote something more boring, like "He gave her a crooked grin and said 'Just remember that, because I'll be back.'" But really, who cares? Getting outraged about "Watchmen" is sort of like getting outraged about that. Watch "Empire." Read "Watchmen." AE out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ki-ki-ki-ki Ma-ma-ma-ma!

Just in from the Friday the 13th remake. Hmm. It wasn't so much bad as it was sort of pointless. I had never seen any of these until a couple years ago, when Art Boy introduced me to the first one and we went on kind of a binge (here's the month with those posts if anyone is curious -- you have to scroll down) (yeah, I could be using these rainy days to tag my archives). I loved #1 and heartily enjoyed #2 and belly-laughed my way through #3. It's not a long history with these movies, but I did enjoy them.

So the remake? Meh. It was about a third as much fun as the "My Bloody Valentine" remake, and about one-twelfth as interesting as the "Halloween" remake (which was not itself very good). Jason scholars should get a kick out of some references: Jason jumping through a window, Jason briefly thinking the final girl is his mom. And slasher scholars can contemplate the changes in mores over the years. I think it's very interesting that smoking pot can now get you killed just as dead as fornicating can. What does this mean? The characters aren't very interesting, and none of it makes any sense, but that wasn't a problem for me in the first three movies. Really the worst thing about this movie is the total lack of atmosphere. It feels incredibly cold and clinical, from the perfectly waxed & buffed bodies to the unlived-in locations. Maybe in 20 years it will look better... but I doubt it. Still, if you're bored and feel like a movie, you could probably do worse.

I am actually pretty excited about the "Last House on the Left" remake. I haven't seen the Wes Craven movie but did see the Bergman movie it was based on, "The Virgin Spring." They share a plot: daughter gets murdered, parents get revenge. So judging from the previews of this remake, the daughter *doesn't* get murdered... she's apparently brutalized but survives. Does she get to partake in the revenge then? Is it more gritty or less gritty? (My money is on less gritty.) I am curious.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Children hate you!

In honor of the octuplets lady, here are some thoughts on David Cronenberg's "The Brood"!

Gosh, I just loved this movie. I didn't expect to. Years and years ago I saw "The Fly" and thought it was fine, but more gross than scary, and I assumed that would be the case here. And there's some grossness (see photo) but it's the tension and the bizarreness that really make this movie wonderful. It's a good while before you see the evil children, so the sense of dread really builds up. I love the first kill scene, which begins when the victim-to-be hears a muffled thump in the other room, and creeps toward the swinging kitchen door... This is totally the kind of movie that makes you scream "Don't go in there!" And once you actually see the children -- who are of course not children but physical manifestations of a divorcee's repressed rage -- the balance kicks over into the deeply surreal. The evil shorties in their little bright hoods are a great shout-out to "Don't Look Now," too...

It's fascinating. And somehow even empowering. I thought this movie would be all misogynistic and women-are-evil, but divorcee Nola develops this Carrie-like power. Somehow by having her dwarf creations beat the living daylights out of everyone who's ever gotten on her nerves, she achieves peace of a kind her miserable ex-husband will never know. She's certainly not a hero and things go no better for her than they did for Carrie White, but the movie still treats her powers with tremendous respect. Don't mess with a breeding woman, I guess.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Por fin

Por fin, I can be happy with Guillermo Del Toro again. Finally steeled up the nerve to watch "The Devil's Backbone" last night. I was all braced to loathe it, what with having hated "Pan's Labyrinth" and having viewed enough Spanish Civil War movies in college to kill a horse. But this 2001 film hits all the right notes. It's a good ghost story. It's a good war movie. It's scary. It's sad. It has beautiful colors. It has dead children and a teacher with a wooden leg. It has everything!

The setting is symbolically loaded: an orphanage for leftist kids during the last days of the Spanish Civil War. The director & teachers have watched, devastated, as their side has lost; their food supplies are dwindling, their options are running out, and they have all these kids with nowhere to go. The last boy to arrive is wee Carlos, who learns the orphanage has a resident ghost: that of a boy named Santi, who died violently on the premises. His ghost flickers through the bedroom and hallways at night but spends most of its time near a basement cistern. What does it want?

Unlike "Pan's Labyrinth," where you just get so exasperated with everyone you want to kick them in the shins, this movie gives you a great array of flawed, complex, identifiable characters. Even the villain has a tragic past -- he's the total opposite of the scenery-chewing fascist from "PL." All the action is all too believable. Del Toro does a great job of delineating the scorching sunlight of the external world -- where adults are, where the war is -- and the dark interior corridors of the orphanage, where Santi tries to communicate with the boys. But the two worlds inexorably overlap. The ending, in which a group of wounded boys limps haltingly out into the blinding sunlight, is both a perfect war-movie visual and a perfect ghost-story visual. He mixes the tropes just flawlessly.

And the ghost stuff is nice and scary. Santi is no Tomas, thank God, but he's plenty creepy. He's a little CGI-intensive but that's OK. All the ghost tricks you might expect, like footprints from an invisible source, the shadow of a hand that isn't there, an eye suddenly on the far side of a keyhole, are deployed so expertly. It's a pleasure to see Del Toro exercise his craft. It almost makes up for Hellboy 2.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Movie "pick" of the week! (Ha ha!)

By all means, go and see "My Bloody Valentine 3D." It is indeed a barrel of laughs!

And amazingly, it really honors the spirit of the original film. I missed the everyday camaraderie of the miners, and the denizens of the small town -- these characters spend most of their time standing around in shock or running for their lives -- but still, they're clearly working-class folks rather than your typical slasher victims. The killer chases two employees through a darkened grocery store and goes after a hotel desk clerk, a truck driver and a very unfortunate nanny.

But this movie is definitely less about the characters and more about the 3D. Here comes a pickaxe! Here comes a tree limb! Here comes an eyeball! Here comes a jaw! Oh man, the 3D is used to maximum effect and it just could not be more fun. It's cheesy but competent, intelligent but not snarky, and just on the whole a great ride.

There are some nice references to scenes from the original, too: something horrible in a dryer, the scene with all the empty mining suits (yes!), body parts in candy boxes (really, would a heart fit in one of those?). Sure, there are a couple bits that don't work -- the mine setting isn't used as intelligently as in the first film, and the scene where the killer walks along smashing light bulbs would be a lot scarier if it actually got DARK when he did that -- but these are quibbles.

You have to love a movie that, in its first ten minutes, gives you Tom Atkins walking into a carnage-filled hospital, surveying a bloody body's empty chest cavity, and snarling, "Happy f***king Valentine's Day."

As for Jensen Ackles, ACE... he is perfectly serviceable, if not really my type. Still, just for you, here is a gratuitous photo!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Time to lose your heart!

Sat down with Art Boy the other week and tucked into "My Bloody Valentine," the classic Canadian slasher being remade in 3-D. What a fascinating little movie! I thoroughly enjoyed it, start to finish -- even though Art Boy pointed out afterward that a) it does not hold up under any degree of analysis and b) it has no genuine scares at all. Still, it's so unique that it's just a real charmer.

First of all, it's set in a sleepy mining town, and our heroes are all working-class men and women -- not high school students, campers or babysitters. It all begins with a horrible mining accident, in which sole survivor Harry Warden is trapped underground for six weeks and has to subsist on the bodies of his friends, all because his colleagues on the surface blew off work in order to get to the town's annual Valentine's Day dance. A year later, Harry escapes from an institution and kills said colleagues, threatening to do the same every year that a Valentine's dance is held. Twenty years later, the town finally decides to have a dance, and guess what happens!

I am so in love with that premise. It's like nothing else you've ever seen. The workers and their gals care so much about this dance! They really hate to think about canceling it even after people start dying! They ignore the dire warnings of their bartender! The whole thing even closes out with a Gordon Lightfoot-style folk ballad, recapping the story in vague fashion ("The horror, from 'long time agooooo"). I can't talk about it without gushing. But it's not just that it's cheesy. The movie, oddly enough, makes this quirky little world believable, at least for a couple hours. The miners' banter, the run-down laundry room, the creaking mine machinery, the lived-in neighborhood bar... somehow it all works. You end up really rather concerned for these people.

It's stylish, too. There aren't any great scares, but the atmosphere down in the mine is fantastically creepy, and the movie intelligently teases you for a while until it actually gets you down there. My favorite though is the scene in the room with all the hanging uniforms -- it almost resembles Harry Dean Stanton's death scene in "Alien." (The death by pot of boiling hot-dog water is pretty imaginative too.) The final shot is fantastic, a perfect blend of gruesome (the severed arm) and stylish, with an eerie sound effect to cap everything. It's like listening to a predictable but still well-told ghost story. This movie's a real pleasure.

Apparently at the time it was a box-office flop. I watched an interesting documentary this week, "Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Flick," in which the movie's failure is blamed on its R rating. This was back when kids could get into pretty much any movie (lucky damn kids) and an R rating was seen as kind of a punishment, in this case because the makers were seen as Canadian carpetbaggers trying to capitalize on the new American slasher-movie cash-cow formula. Anyway, it's interesting that the remake is also rated R, and that will probably do nothing but help it at the box office, since no teenager is going to bother with a lame-o PG-13 movie. (Teenagers still say "lame-o," right? Oh, where are my bifocals?)

Side note: The remake is driving me up the wall with its tagline, "He's coming to break your heart." With a pick? He's going to *break* my heart or just drive a pick into it? (I don't think it's the same thing.) And he's not going to extract it and hide it in candy boxes for people to find? Drag.