Mar 31, 2012

SHITTY FLICKS - BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.

Released in Italy in the early 80’s as Le Notti Del Terrore, this Italian grindhouse trashterpiece is hailed as such for one reason and one reason only: a midget thespian named Peter Bark. But, we’ll get to that in a few minutes.

An archeologist digs below in a crater, his beard the size of a small inland. Heavy Beard, human name being Professor Ayres, narrates to us about “the incredible secret” that only he knows about. What this secret is remains that way, because the narration abruptly stops.

In the crypt, or whatever he’s in, he begins to hammer away at a section of rock, but oh no! He is immediately accosted by large, sweater-wearing zombies that he mistakenly unleashed earlier in the dig.

"It's Tuesday, beard. You know what that means.
Wrasslin' time."

“Stay back, I am you friend!” he lies, trying to save his beard from their gnashing teeth. The zombies fall on him and remove healthy sections of his abdomen and feast on warm man meat.

We immediately cut to our title, complemented by some amusing and mood-breaking light flute jazz, and then we meet a small family. They pull their car through some fancy schmancy gates and stop outside a glorious villa, followed by a few other cars containing their friends.

Master of the house, George, makes idle chatter with his house staff as his wife, Evelyn, and their freak-looking son, Michael—who is supposed to be ten but looks the retarded kind of 30—walk into the house. It’s clear that a freak adult (Peter Bark!) has been cast as a child, but what’s not clear is why…at least for now. He then goes to bed, I guess, since he's a real child, you know. And not a freak adult man.

In the next room, James and Leslie make immediate whoopee and then begin a fuck session after Leslie parades around in her skimpy little sex outfit.

"You look just like a little whore, but I like that," James says romantically. Leslie doesn't seem to mind, because why would she? Don't be such a square.

And speaking of fuck sessions, George and Mommy Evelyn have one too.

During their show, the door to their bedroom is thrown violently open, and the shadow of a figure grows larger and larger, soon so big that any second one might expect a shuffling monster six feet high to enter.

And a monster sorta does.

It’s Michael, their freak son.

“Mommy,” he cries, spying her delicious body.

“Michael, get back in bed!” she responds, and instead of merely staying in the bed to cover herself from her son’s eyes, she jumps out of bed, buck naked, and runs halfway across the room to sloppily throw on her clothes, all the while revealing even more breasts and vagigi.

Michael flees the room to jerk away this sight.

MAN CHILD FREAK THING is available for parties,
bar-mitzvahs, job conferences, and terror.
 
And yet in another room over, Janet begins hastily packing her suitcase and crying.

“We’re all in danger!” she bellows, as her husband, Mark, tries to calm her. What scary event that preceded this scene to lead to such behavior remains momentarily non-existent, but after a bit of bullshit, we find it’s because she had suffered a nightmare of their impending doom. Mark quickly allays her fears, probably with his cock.

And in the next room over, lazy ghouls in their comfortable looking over-sized wardrobe shuffle to the exit of their tomb to see if they could find one of those all-night men to eat.

Gathered in the dining room, everyone discusses their night of sleep, as freak son Michael complains about being cooped up in the house and wishes to go outside. Soon all the couples disperse to explore the ground, and Michael stares freakly as they go.

Mark and Janet—the ones plagued with nightmares of doom—romp around the bushes as the man takes photos of his wife.

“You’re getting to be quite the model!” he says, laying the foundation for a boner joke.

“Then you getter give me a raise,” she says, accepting this groundwork of the boner joke and facilitating its path to a flaccid punch line.

“Oh, I’m giving you a raise all right, but it’s nothing to do with money,” he says, seeing the boner joke through to its completion, all the while not amusing anyone on Earth.

I’m sure it sounded much more romantic in Italian.

Inside the mansion, Nicolas and Kathy—the house staff—look spooked as all the light fixtures blink on and off, and then begin to explode.

Why those freak occurrences?

Beats me.

Maybe someone in this movie would have a clue if they weren’t all busy having clothes-on sex outside.

Speaking of clothes-on sex outside, Mark is still busy squeezing his wife’s ass, so he remains ignorant of the zombie who is pulling itself from the wormy ground to begin its painfully slow attack on them. It grabs Mark, who easily kicks himself free, and as the couple skirts backwards along the ground, the zombie doesn’t move a solitary inch, merely watching them recoil in fear.

“It’s a walking corpse!” cries Mark.

“I’m terrified!” cries Janet.

They flee back to the house as their robed and rotted adversaries slowly follow.

Back in the house’s cellar, George shows off the mansion’s statue collection to Evelyn—and then promptly shoots at them with his trusty handgun. We’re not sure why. Stupid wops.

“Mommy, this cloth smells of DEATH!” Michael oddly cries, having picked up an old rag off the ground.

“You have the strangest ideas,” Mommy states, moments before zombies burst in on them.

George takes aim with his gun and fires, shooting holes in all of their canvas outfits. Naturally, the zombies don’t die, their wounds emitting spurts of chocolate.

"George, I'm sorry... We ate all the pancakes."

Mommy and Michael flee as George gives all of his organs to the zombies.

Meanwhile, James and Leslie, busy necking and moaning out in the bushes, also remain unaware of the zombfoolery going on just beyond a garden wall.

The woman spots zombie hands reaching over as she blathers in fear.

“It’s a joke!” cries James.

“No, they’re real!” cries Leslie.

They make a break for it.

Mark and Janet, still fleeing in fear, make it to the inner garden and slam the heavy stone doors behind them. Just when they think they’re home free, the woman dumbly gets caught in a bear trap. The pain is intense, but at least they got away from the zombies.

Oh wait, there they are.

Mark attacks them with a pitchfork, stabbing them one at a time. When that fails almost instantly, the zombie grabs the man and begins to strangle him. Amusingly, it almost looks as if the actor playing Mark grabs the hands of the zombie to make it look like they’re fighting each other, but may have been actually guiding the otherwise blind zombie actor’s hands directly to his throat.

Either that or tepid acting.

What do you think, audience?

Mark, bored with his life, decides to take a series of
"mostly bad-ass" pictures.

Luckily, James and Leslie show up with some decent rocks and smash the heads of the attackers, and we’re treated to some serious rock-on-skull damage in full, slow-mo close-up.

Back with mother and freak son, they continue to thwart attacks from their own small horde of ghouls.

Backed into a corner with some nearby paint supplies, freak son points at something and says, “Mommy, we can set it on fire!”

And that they do.

All the couples meet up and make it back into the main part of the house. Once inside, the house staff begins to talk excitedly of how the bulbs had flickered and exploded, yet not a single time do any of the others respond with, “Monsters tried to eat us.”

The boarding of windows and doors ensues as Kathleen the maid investigates the house to look for any more unguarded weak spots. Welp, she spots one, and when she leans ALL the way out to close the outdoor shutters, one of the zombies flings a spike into her hand, pinning her to the outside. With the aid of a convenient scythe, the maid loses her head into the awaiting hands of the ghouls.

They then all take turns kissing it with their teeth.

James discovers Kathy’s headless body, and after briefly mourning, tips her body up and out the window, feeding the zombies and securing his own place in Heaven. He then boards up the window as the zombies search the maid’s body for the wettest of foodstuffs.

The zombies arm themselves with various gardening tools—including axes—and begin to chop their way through the door.

Ravenna's most notorious of zombie frats was rounded up by police,
and despite their hellish reputation, they surrendered fairly quickly.

“They can only be killed by blowing their heads off!” James deduces, and begins doing just that.

“Give me some more cartridges,” he says to Leslie, and kills a few more. He shoots an impressive number of them, but since we’re never given a master shot of the attacking ghouls, we don’t know how many there are.

“Give me some more cartridges,” he says again to Leslie, but no need, it seems. The zombies turn and run off in fear, but in the way that zombies do it, so, slowly.

Thinking they are safe for the night, Leslie opts to aimlessly wander through the house, but that decision is rewarded with the smash of a window and the grabbing of her head.

By zombies.

The dastardly ghoul drags Leslie’s Play-Do face across the glass, cutting her up and killing her instantly.

The occupants in the house arm themselves with various blunt objects as the zombies finally smash their way in. Janet begins to desperately stab at one of the zombies, but obviously that results in nothing.

Luckily THE MEN show up and beat the zombie heads to smithereens.

Freak Michael gets trapped in the corner by one and he shrieks “Mommy!” in his freak adult voice.

Question: Seriously, since the movie is making a concerted effort to make Michael seem younger, and since the entire cast has to be dubbed into English anyway, why wouldn't you take this opportunity to dub his voice with that of a young boy?

Mommy kills the zombie, and Michael, obviously grateful, sits down with his Momma on a bench and does what any thankful son would do: goes for the tits.

“I need to touch you,” Michael coos. “When I was a baby, you used to hold me to your breast. I need your breasts so much, Momma.”

Momma, disgustingly receptive, is okay with this until he goes for the momgina. A single slap breaks them both out of this incestuous tryst.

“What’s wrong?! I’m your son!” he exclaims and runs off, his outburst the sterling definition of a paradox.

During the grossness, the men agree on a plan to escape and set it in motion, so Mommy Evelyn goes to retrieve Michael. She finds him in the bathroom, his insides somewhat splattered on the floor, but mostly splattered in the mouth of the recently resurrected Leslie.

Michael's parties were known for being
the best on campus, but they always seemed
to end the same way.

“My son!” she screams, slamming Leslie’s head repeatedly into a pipe until turning it to a goo egg.

The zombies use a battering ram to enter the house and they continue their pursuit of arrogant and incestuous Italians.

Nicolas the butler is sent on a quick assignment to gather some supplies, but instead of following through with that task, he figures it might be better to be eaten by a ghoul (the suddenly-appearing Professor Ayes)!

The group becomes separated once again as James chases what he thinks is a priest. Well, he’s half right. He stumbles into a large group of hooded men sitting around a table.

If you weren’t born sideways, it’s already obvious to you that these hooded figures eat people.

James is eaten fairly quickly and the ghouls once again go after the remaining survivors. James wakes up minutes later, eager for some of that greaseball flesh.

Janet, Kathleen, and Mark flee down a small path and stumble into what “looks like some kind of model-builder’s workshop."

Luckily, someone is there to greet them: zombie. Once again, these hapless fools find themselves surrounded by their ghoul adversaries, and as the women barricade the front door, Mark attacks the one behind them with what looks like a large bone. Instead of going for the head, which would work, he goes for the shoulder, which doesn’t. But no matter, Mark flips the ghoul over the stairway and it hurdles to the ground in completely unnecessary and awesome slow-mo.

And just when things can’t get any more horrifying, Michael shows up! Evelyn welcomes him into her arms as Mark screams, “Don’t touch him! He’s a zombie!”

Michael, eye-level with Evelyn’s breasts, unleashes those beauties from her blouse.

“Oh, yes, Michael. Just like when you were a baby. Go on, Michael. You used to love it, so.”

Mark and Janet, despite the ghouls hammering their way in to eat them, still need to stop, understandably so, and just wonder what the fuck it is with those two.

Michael, sucking on Mommy’s boobs, takes a nice bite, borrowing a nipple for just a short time, as the rest of the zombies attack Mark and Janet.

And THAT'S why they cast a 30-year-old freak man boy thing for this role—he's gotta get tits in his mouth.

And, you know, the movie ends with everyone having just a really good time:

Michael continues to chew on his Mommy’s boobs.

Evelyn dies from being a nippleless pervert mother.

Mark gets shoved into a table saw.

Janet is torn apart.

And the ghouls go back to Macy's and return their sweaters because they're just way too big.


Mar 29, 2012

SLIT

Children walking alone at night may encounter a woman wearing a surgical mask. The woman will stop the child and ask, "Am I beautiful?" If the child answers no, the woman kills them with a pair of scissors. If they answer yes, the woman pulls away the mask, revealing that her mouth is slit from ear to ear and asks, "Even like this?" If the child answers no, they will be cut in half. If they answer yes, then she will slit their mouth like hers.


Mar 22, 2012

DARK WORLD

 
“Call me Count Zakula—Banisher of Evil.”

Sigh.

I really wanted to like this book. The potential was definitely there—it’s about ghosts, abandoned places, and Zak Bagans. Three things I love! But it’s that third thing that’s the problem. Really, Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the "Ghost Adventures" Crew, is a paradox. People previously unfamiliar with Zak Bagans and his uber-successful Travel Channel show "Ghost Adventures" would likely not give this book a second glance. For a general reader in the mood for “non-fiction” looks at the paranormal, there are hundreds of books out there on the subject. The Demonologist, for one. No, the ideal audience for Dark World would be those already quite familiar with Bagans et al. And that’s where the disappointment lies. Have you been following "GA" since the first season? Are you a devoted fan? Seen every episode? Then sadly, this book is not going to offer you much of anything new.

The book starts off strongly enough: Zak gets into more detail about the original haunting in his Michigan apartment—the haunting that set him on his current quest. To my knowledge he’s never been as explicit in his details in regards to this anywhere else. His recollection of the event is interesting and even a little chilling. Added to that, Zak talks about himself personally—his own upbringing, places he’s lived, and his own non-paranormal fears (he once had a people phobia—no bullshit!) He even name-drops his favorite movie (Bram Stoker’s Dracula). This, too, was pretty interesting; it’s a side of himself he’s never uncovered before on the show. It humanized him in a way—it was a nice counter to the overly-tattooed, somewhat ego-maniacal TV persona who runs around in tight black shirts and openly talks to ghosts like he’s about to punch them in the face.


Once all that “about me” stuff is out of the way, however, is where the problems begin. While Zak is clearly passionate about what he does, and what he believes in, his attempts to relay his experiences with the paranormal do nothing more than hark back to episodes of "Ghost Adventures" with which we've been made previously familiar. He relays instances at Sloss Furnace, Moundsville Penitentiary, and the Goldfield Hotel—places we’ve already been.

But that’s not the only problem. Zak provides information to the reader with the assumption that they have no knowledge of the paranormal, so some of it can be a little dry. Entire sections of the book are dedicated to orbs, mists, residual hauntings, intelligent hauntings, etc, etc, and after a while you begin to lose interest. I’m not suggesting this information isn’t important, because it is—they are all touchstones of paranormal investigation. But a red pen would have been a huge help in paring down some of the less-important details in order to keep the text flowing. Once you’re on your sixth straight page about orbs—floating balls of energy that may or may not be ghosts—you start to tune out a bit.

The last issue I had with the book was its “voice”—and this is where I think most fans of the book would be split. The book is very conversational in tone, which most fans of Zak’s would prefer, as that’s why they’re reading the thing in the first place. While he does utilize some of the same flowery language he uses on his show, it’s mostly pretty down to earth and simple to follow. Because of this, it’s an easy read. My qualm with this choice is that, again, like his show, you either like Zak or you don’t. As I once previously shared on this blog, a friend of mine who is way into paranormal shows once said that Zak was “kind of a tool.” I don’t think there’s ever been a person more appropriate for that term. Zak, though I do like him, and find him entertaining, is kind of a tool. What he may consider passion can very easily be mistaken for showboating and attempts to look extra macho. Like in the show, this also comes across in the book. A little too often. In one chapter, he mentions thriving in situations where he is absolutely alone in a dark room where he knows a spirit is nearby. He says it's a place where “amateurs” fear, but that he “loves” it. In another passage, he equates going into haunted locations where “bully” spirits are said to inhabit (Zak hates bullies, you see), with standing up to a crowd of bikers in a bar—a situation in which he would not back down. After a while, what may have been innocently said comes across as somewhat pompous and faux-alpha.

One has to realize something: At this point, Zak is basically the rock star equivalent of paranormal reality television. Girls think he's hot and guys think he's gangsta. If you Google "Zak Bagans," the following related searches pop up: zak bagans shirtless, zak bagans body, zak bagans tattoo, zak bagans girlfriend. Funnily enough, not zak bagans ghosts. And the search results for only his name reveal several pictures of him without a shirt, as well as pictures of girls with his own photo horribly cropped into them. Zak's audience aren't all tuning in for ghosts—some are tuning in for him. I think he realizes that, and I think it might be going to his head a bit.

An extension of this is something that's present both in the show as well as the book. Zak kinda thinks he is better than you—you, the fans, the audience—the people who give him a reason to keep doing what he's doing. He likes to remind us that we can't even begin to sense the true danger and evil the "GA" crew might be experiencing because we're at home watching it on our "little televisions." In fact, a snippet from the book says:
You have to remember—while you're at home chilling comfortably on your couch watching this stuff on your flat-screen TV, eating a Lunchable and stacking the cheese on your cracker sandwich, you can't feel what it's like to actually be in the company of one of these nasty spirits.
Seriously, Zak—what the fuck did we do?

Lastly, and this is more of minor criticism, but most of Zak’s “humor” really doesn’t work—it barely skirts by on the show, but in text, it’s even more awkward. (See the opening quote of this review—I didn’t make that up.) I’m pretty sure there’s even a fart joke somewhere in the book, too.

At this point I might be coming dangerously close to reviewing the author instead of his book, so I should probably move onto some positives.

In the earlier portions of the book, he speaks very candidly about his early life—not just of his people phobia, but of his somewhat aimless direction that led him to various colleges and jobs where he felt nothing but isolation and despair. It was refreshingly modest. 

Additionally, Zak addresses criticisms he or his crew have received in the past—criticisms that I personally have lobbed at the show. He admits to trying to fill in the gaps a bit too much when it comes to EVPs captured in the moment. For instance, the guys might think a voice is saying “GONNA KILL YOU” when in actuality the words are barely coherent. He also admits to coming across a little abrupt in some of his investigations, but explains that it’s the nagging of the skeptics that make him feel like he has to go above and beyond to show that what he brings to your TV each week is real.

For me, the jury’s still out on that.


As a disclaimer, I state that I love Zak Bagans and his "GA" crew. While the investigations alone are enough to get me to tune in, it’s Zak’s dynamic “performance” as host that makes it my number one paranormal show. Whether he is being bawdy or passionate or downright ridiculous, he brings a flavor to the show that there really is no denying. Whether we fans tune in to laugh with Zak or at him, we’re still tuning in…aren’t we?

P.S. Note to Aaron Goodwin: Please write your own book. I’d love to read it.

Mar 20, 2012

UNTAPPED BLOOD


Is it fair to say the glory days of Carpenter, Romero, and Craven are behind them? Should they fade into obscurity with what little respect they have remaining and perhaps work on their memoirs? Admittedly, Carpenter will always get a pass from me, but even the most cynical movie fan has to admit his "Masters of Horror" episode "Cigarette Burns" was damn good, and though his latest feature, The Ward, may have been derivative and cliched, the direction showed signs of life and enthusiasm. Is it Halloween or Escape From New York? God no - it's not even Vampires. But it's not the train wreck people say it is. However, I'll admit the Carpenter of now is not the Carpenter of '77-'88.

I don't mean to make it sound like without these heavy weights the genre is dead. Likewise, there are plenty of fresh faces out there giving us horror fans exactly what we need: James Wan, Brad Anderson, Lucky McKee, and the less heralded Christopher Smith, Jim Mickle, and Patrick Lussier.

But there are directors out there who have already shown a knack for our genre. Though they have yet to make an outright horror film, something is clearly festering inside these directors that needs to be explored.

Let's start with the most obvious:

Mel Gibson
I'm going to avoid going for the more generic argument by reminding you just how violent and splattery Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was. It's a cheap shot to the filmmaker, and it's also pretty disrespectful to the genre we're all supposed to love. But time and time again I've seen people disparage Gibson's very red Passion as nothing more than a torture porn film. "He should direct a Saw sequel!" I once saw a moron saya moron who apparently believes that's all a horror film amounts to: chains and blood and flying limbs. It's an unfair statement on every level I can imagine. First and foremost, wherever your religious (or non-religious) views lie, there's no denying Passion was a powerful film. I personally don't have one faithful bone in my body my time on planet Earth has been pretty instrumental determining that but I was moved by Passion. Quite highly. And while the scenes of torture were effectively disturbing (and rightfully so), they are not the reasoning behind Gibson's potential as a genre director. No, I speak of the scenes where Jesus frequently sees Satan staring at him from within the crowd of the jeering and judging. And this Satan is not the Satan of biblical or mythical lore. It's not even the Satan created by Hollywood. This is a Satan whose body is emaciated, whose sex is indeterminate, and whose all-white skin makes him stand out as he floats smoothly throughout the crowd. He holds a too-large deformed baby in his arms, and he stares at Jesus with eyes filled both with spite and sympathy. And let's not forget the scene where Judas is harassed by demonic children with insane sharp teeth and monstrous sneers before the man hangs himself from guilt...


Perfect Project: The proposed Pet Sematary remake. And while I'd like for him to pull double-duty and appear in front of the camera as well, he's too old for Louis Creed. But he'd make a haunting Judd Crandall, wouldn't he?

 Sean Penn
Sean Penn's time spent behind the camera may be less heralded than Mel Gibson's, but that does not mean his films do not contain some genuinely creepy imagery. I speak primarily of The Pledge, the 2001 dramatic thriller not seen by too many people. It's the story of a retiring chief of police (Jack Nicholson) who makes a promise to a mourning mother that he will not stop looking for the maniac that took the life of her daughter. Early on in the film, Nicholson's Jerry Black has a nightmare in which he rushes into a church and sees before him a defiled altar covered in the blood of the murdered girl. And standing over her, covered in blood and with a completely insane smile on his face, is genre fave Tom Noonan. The camera rushes at his face with inhuman speed, forcing the audience up close against this walking nightmare. It is a scene that literally scared the shit out of me in theaters the first time I saw it. While The Pledge is a dark and somber movie for its entire running time, this nightmare sequence is the only jarring and graphic moment in the film. It is expertly assembled and crafted. While I get the feeling that Sean Penn would not work within our genre, figuring it was beneath him, I can't help but wonder what kind of output we could receive should he ever give it a shot. None of Penn's films have ever really been large in scope, as he instead chooses to focus on small and contained stories about flawed people. So find him something small and contained with horrific elements, and let him do what he does.

Perfect Project: While perhaps not obviously horror, I'd love to see what he could do with a fresh adaptation of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It's a dour book with a not-too-optimistic look at our future, and it has an underlying political tone that someone like Penn could not resist. It would be a little outside of his comfort zone, but that might be good for him. Penn's last two directorial films were based on books, and his two films before that were original scripts. Him tackling the adaptation of the book himself could result in something bleak but wonderful.

Christopher Nolan 
At this point, I think Nolan can do no wrong. Now is the time for him to hop right into our genre and show what he can do. This man has run the gamut of all the genres thus far. He's given us thrillers and dramas, as well as both crazy mind-fuck and exhilarating action. What's left for him to do but a comedy? Horror, my friendthat's what. The melancholy tone present in all his films would mix well in the world of the horrific. I see him tackling quite well a Shutter Island-esque horror tale as you witness the psychological breakdown of your main character. But at the same time, he can go big, as he's proven with Inception and The Dark Knight. And speaking of Inception, the scene where Ellen Page's Ariadne first meets Marion Cotillard's Mal is shockingly creepy. Cotillard's glare as Ariadne and Cobb retreat back up the elevator - and those dark eyes follow for most of their ascension - is chilling. Besides, Insomnia (the director's most under-appreciated filmand my personal favorite) as well as The Prestige has shown the man can descend into darkness with the best of them and come out with something both thrilling and poignant. While his films may not be overtly horrific, it's the darkness that lie within his characters - and what they're willing to do to each other or themselves - that make him a perfect horror candidate.

Perfect Project: Guillermo Del Toro's first book of his vampire trilogy The Strain. Nolan has already proven he can handle the more fantastical with his Batman films, and it's about time Hollywood apologized for all the fairy vamps of late and showed that they prefer to rip off heads rather than go to geometry.

Nicolas Winding Refn
Bronson got his name circulating, but Drive put him on the map. Both critics and fans embraced the oddly quiet story about a mentally unstable Hollywood stunt driver who gets in deep with some very bad men. No, there's not a lot of driving in a movie called Drive, but that doesn't make it any less awesome, either. Refn has a creative mind, and there are shots in Drive that look ripped directly from Kubrick's version of The Shining. The motel room scene is incredibly suspenseful and dripping with red; and the scene where Gosling's character slowly approaches the entrance to Nero's Pizzeria wearing his humanoid face mask doesn't quite feel like it belongs in a movie that is essentially John Hughes' Taxi Driver. Shortly after Drive's release, Refn was courted for all kinds of Hollywood projects, including the now-filming Die Hard 5 (under the direction of John Moore - ugh). While it's probably best he avoided that particular project, you can't help but wonder what other Hollywood properties - actual or potential - that he would be good for...


Perfect Project: A adaptation of the videogame Alan Wake ("Eew, no!" you say). Refn's lead characters are unstable and solitary men on a not-so-typical journey. And there's no one more solitary than novelist Alan Wake, who begins to investigate his wife's disappearance, all the while set-pieces from his own novels seem to be existing in the strange town of Bright Falls.

Bill Paxton
I know, I know. The man already has Frailty under his belt and the movie is damn good. Perhaps it was the pitiful box office returns from his directorial debut that scared him away from the horror genre (I believe it was the first Resident Evil that was sucking up all the horror fans' money that season at the box office), but with a pedigree like Paxton's, I find it hard to believe the man has not revisited the horror genre. For a man who got his start in films like Aliens, The Terminator, and Predator 2 (and was killed by each titular monster), along with the incredible Near Dark, I have a feeling the man is itching to get back into the genre. Bill Paxton's last few roles in film and television have been rather subdued and quietkind of strange for a man who played all manner of quirky and obnoxious characters in the past, such as Aliens' Private Hudson or Weird Science's Chet. The last "fun" part he played was in 2004's Club Dread, and his role as Coconut Pete showed he still wanted to party.

Perfect Project: Jonathan L. Howard has authored three books now in the Johannes Cabal series, the first being Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer. It is a highly unusual book about the dark arts, the debate over the significance of the soul, and a wager between man and devil. And your guide on this demented journey is the ever sarcastic Joannes Cabal. The book is goofy, horrific and laugh-out-loud funny. Paxton has already showed he's capable of doing all three...now let's see him do it all at one time.

Honorable Mentions: Oliver Stone dabbled once in horror with his creepy cheapy The Hand starring Michael Caine, but his penchant for slimy characters (like, say, Natural Born Killers) makes me want him to take on author Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time.  And if Bill Paxton wouldn't want to take on Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer, I can see the Coen Bros. picking up the slack, as the book's odd tone would perfectly suit their own quirky style. Lastly, (and oddly), Adult Swim's Tim & Eric have proven in many of their skits that they have a truly macabre sense of humor. Give them something splattery and ridiculous to sink their teeth into—perhaps an Evil Dead 2-ish film of teen hijinks and flying body parts. One thing is for sure, it would be R-rated, original, and entirely fucked up.

Mar 16, 2012

REVIEW: CROPSEY


There’s a scene during Cropsey, a documentary that explores the events behind several missing Staten Island kids from 1972-87, where someone holds up a photo of the presumed killer.

He says:

“I can show you this picture…


…and tell you this guy murdered five children. And you would say, ‘Yeah, yeah…I can see it. I can see it.’ But then I can show you this same picture…


…and tell you, ‘This guy saved five children from a burning building,’ and you would say, “Yeah, yeah…I can see it. I can see it.’ ”

That pretty much sums up Cropsey in its entirety. It is a documentary that relates events between 1972 and 1987 when five special needs children went missing. To date, none of those bodies have been found…except for the young girl who had vanished most recently. Because the young girl's body was unearthed in the woods not far from suspected Andre Rand's campsite/home, he was charged and remains in prison to this day...but his legacy never left Staten Island. Cropsey dredges up old memories and recollections, and shows you that the horror that took place on this island so many years ago still weighs heavily on so many hearts. But unfortunately, it asks a whole lot of questions and doesn’t really provide any answers.

Who really was Andre Rand?

Could he really be responsible for the kidnapping and murder of five missing children over a period of 15 years?

Was he a Satanist, or was he involved in Satanism groups said to inhabit the island during that time?

Did the prosecution that went after Rand really have anything more than circumstantial evidence and eyewitness testimonies from known alcoholics and drug addicts?

Were the charges against Rand just, or did the jury and surrounding community judge him too harshly based on his manic appearance and behavior?

Sadly, you don’t really find out the answers to any of these questions. The filmmakers – Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio – present multiple theories on what could have happened that caused those children to go missing and never return. Many theories are suggested, but only one of them really receives the bulk of the documentary's focus: that Andre Rand was the true killer, and that he acted alone. 

There’s a difference between research and investigation, and it would seem the filmmakers opted to focus on the former. Cropsey is based primarily on what everyone already knew; it’s a Cliffsnotes version of the true story. It presents no new information and no revelations. And while the filmmakers leave “the truth” ambiguous, it seems pretty obvious that Rand is the Cropsey the island is searching for. After all, the first time you see Rand in the documentary, he is being taken into police custody; his eyes are wide and empty, as if there is no soul behind them, and a thick line of drool hangs from mouth. It is an eerie sight, knowing that this man is allegedly human...


Despite its shortcomings, the documentary is not entirely without merit. For those who had never heard of the Staten Island murders, the doc fills you in and provides you with a wealth of background. Parents and friends of the missing kids are interviewed, as well as other Staten Island citizens who lived through the ordeal. Police officers, detectives, lawyers, news reporters—everyone who was around at that time and involved in the investigation are fairly represented.

The most shocking piece of footage from the film comes not from the filmmakers, but Geraldo Rivera’s exposé shot at the island’s Willowbrook Sanitarium. In an effort to show the world the horrid conditions that both the patients and the staff underwent while confined there, Rivera turned his cameras to the suffering, the unhinged, and the insane. This is important to mention, because Rand had been employed at Willowbrook, and it was his interaction with these special needs children that many people believe later fueled his impulse to kill them. He allegedly once said that special-needs kids did not deserve the life they were forced to live, and further, they could potentially pass down their deficiencies to future generations of children. Rivera's exposé was a visualization of what Rand was supposedly thinking: "What a horrid life to have to live...if only someone would do something to end their suffering..."

Why Cropsey for the documentary’s title? Because the name “Cropsey” is synonymous with urban legends—a popular name given to a killer who lurks camp grounds at night, looking to mutilate any camper out of their bunks after lights out. The name was even given to the killer in The Burning, a cheap slasher movie from the 80s most famous for its special effects work from genius Tom Savini (and written by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, of all people). The filmmakers explain in their documentary that before, during, and after the five Staten Island children went missing, the legend of Cropsey remained consistently strong…but unlike other urban legends, this one was real.

While the documentary has good intentions, it only really manages to be superficially entertaining, not thought provoking. At best you will be left with “I wonder who really killed those kids.” But because that’s the question you already had when the documentary began, you’ll be left feeling a little disappointed.


On a technical level the documentary is very well made. The “direction,” insofar as one could utilize within a documentary, is competent. The editing keeps things moving steadily, although the bit where the filmmakers go to the sanitarium at night – and see a pack of people coming towards them in the darkness, only to realize they are thrill-seeking teens – reeks too much of sensationalism. This scene brought nothing to the overall investigation except an empty thrill. Sure, it's a bit eerie the first time you see it, but when you realize it's just kids, and there is no threat, you wonder why it was even included.

Despite everything, Cropsey is worth a watch. With the right frame of mind, it’s a conversation starter, and would satisfy those looking for a dark piece of thrilling true crime. But while Cropsey might be the most prominent examination of Andre Rand to date, it would hardly be considered definitive.

Mar 15, 2012

Mar 14, 2012

SOUNDSCAPE: THE FOG


My obsession with John Carpenter's The Fog should be well-known 'round these blog pages by now. At various times over the years, I've hailed either Halloween or The Thing as my be-all/end-all favorite Carpenter movie—it's a strength of the filmmaker's talent that I was unable to nail down a perpetual favorite. When I was young, it was Halloween all the way. Slasher movies were pretty much king to me at that time, and Halloween was king of them. Later on, I'd decided to move onto his more complex and impressive remake of The Thing. And while his bloody and gooey gore show is an absolute classic – one that should not have derailed his career as a studio director – I am simply head-over-heels in love with The Fog. No, it's not perfect, nor is it his best film, but horror set at a sea-side town is always going to intrigue me, and there's nothing like a nice, old-fashioned ghost story. His score is the best he's ever done, and when you mix all that up with some Atkins, you've got a nice little flick that plays well at any time of year.

So here is my ode to The Fog. In its running time of eleven minutes, I use maybe 10-15 seconds from the film itself – all the rest was cherry-picked from other sources and weaved together to recreate what Antonio Bay might have sounded like on that infamous April 21st. The emphasis is mostly on ambiance, not story. It's told from the point of view of a fly-on-the-wall witness who is dropped into the middle of Antonio Bay and is left to wander the beach and the streets as the clock strikes twelve...and the sins of Antonio Bay come back from their watery graves...

As always, please listen with headphones.

Mar 13, 2012

SHITTY FLICKS: AMITYVILLE 4: THE EVIL ESCAPES

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


After a highly-publicized series of bizarre encounters that the Lutz family of Deer Park, New York, allegedly experienced during the early 70s, it was only a matter of time before their debacle was made into a high-profile Hollywood film.

The Amityville Horror, starring a heavily-bearded James Brolin, a soon-to-be-crazy Margot Kidder, and the all-around loveable Rod Steiger, assaulted audiences in 1979. The movie contained terrifying scenes of buzzing flies, glowing-eyed ghost pigs, and multiple takes of James Brolin chopping wood and shivering. That's...about it. The movie that people now hail as a classic, frankly, is pretty fucking stupid. It’s quite boring, and for long periods of time, nothing happens, but it’s a premise that has somehow stretched on for eight films and one remake.

For years, debates between the former owners (now deceased), ghost hunters, lawyers, and occultists have long debated over the facts of this case. Did the Lutzes truly experience these ghostly happenings they had claimed, or did they overly-sensationalize a boring house that they realized far-too-late was well out of their budgetary means? The "was it/wasn't it?" debate to this day remains more interesting than any of the films it inspired.

Speaking of uninteresting, this particular installment was the first to introduce the idea that all future "plots" didn't have to involve the infamous house at all; instead, various objects acquired from the house itself could be the reason for the bumps in the night. What sort of objects, you ask? Oh, I dunno... perhaps a stupid lamp.

- "Ugh, there's a demon in it. Let's take a ride so I can return it."
- "Where to?"
- "IKEA."
- "Fuck that. Just keep it."

Our story begins with carloads of priests pulling up in front of 112 Ocean Avenue, the mailing address for TERROR. As three priests wander through the house with their arsenal of crucifixes and holy water-flingers, attempting to purge the evil from the house, it's okay for you to laugh as you remember this house was blown to bits at the end of the previous Amityville film. They walk through the house as shutters bang, doors open and close, chandeliers swing, and blood drips from the wall. While Father Kibbler dodges flung rocking chairs, Father Manfred deals with a wacko-jacko kitchen chock-full of flaming stove tops and banging cabinets...for the house is haunted by the spirit of Kevin McCallister.

As Father Manfred takes over Father Kibbler’s station and purges the evil, we see a small bulge pop from the plug of some unseen household device, which travels up and up the cord until blowing its evil load in...a lamp.

A cloud of really mean flies come and knock over a priest, so they all flee. Despite this, they believe they've exorcised the house of its evil, anyway.

Speaking of evil, Patty Duke's in this movie.

"I'm sorry, son. I didn't mean it when I called you Blockhead.
Now take your blocks upstairs, Blockhead."

Now that the house has been cleansed of all evil, the priests decide to have a random yard sale of the house’s content, since they own all the stuff...right?

Say, I have a question: who the frig is going to buy junk from a place that once housed a brutal mass murder, various supernatural instances, and a vortex? Helen Peacock, that's who.

Yes, that's right, the nearby community that grew more and more terrified of the house from hell over the years now paw eagerly through its contents like beavers looking for…oh, say, delicious beaver candy that beavers eat.

So, Helen Peacock—

“Wait, stop. Her name is Peacock? Who wrote this movie, Parker Bros.?”

Well, though they're referred to as Leacock during the movie, the DVD I very temporarily owned called the family the 'Peacocks' in the summary, so 'Peacock' it shall be for me because that lends me joy.

Helen Peacock eagerly ponies up $100 for The Lamp, which had bore witness to a long list of atrocities, and crates it off to her sister, Alice, in California. Also, she cuts her finger on The Lamp, which gets infected with whatever - Hell, maybe - and she dies.

Score 1 for The Lamp.

Granny Alice receives The Lamp at the exact same moment that her daughter and grandkids come to live with her after the death of their husband/father/plot device. So, luckily, all of The Lamp’s trouble-making bullshit antics can be easily blamed on her three stupid grandchildren.

And The Lamp? Well, it’s an asshole. For serious. And it’s also hideous. It's a bronze tree with two arm things, and it contains one large non-shaded bulb which may or may not contain a demon troll from Ernest Scared Stupid.

The Lamp has hobbies, like making Nancy’s young son, Blockhead, pick up a chainsaw and thrash him around the fruit cellar as he inadvertently slices and dices Granny Alice’s precious jams and preserves.

The Stupid Fat Blockhead Kid Massacre

Or it will shove Granny Alice’s pet parakeet into the toaster oven. (And Granny Alice even goes so far as to blame herself for her pet bird ending up brown and toasty, insinuating that the bird opened its own cage [using its hands], set the toaster dial to crispy [using its hands and previously existing knowledge of kitchen appliances], opened and then shut the oven hatch behind it. However, that idea lasts for about two shakes before she begins to suspect that maybe it was one of her evil grandchildren performing all these random acts of "horror" that so far have not even surpassed the level of a mean-spirited camp prank.)

The Lamp oozes a sort of magical black goo - magical because it possesses the ability to get in a girl's mouth, or kill a plumber.

Speaking of that plumber, after he gets slapped in the face by a rubber hand and drowns in the goo, The Lamp spirits promptly drive his van away as Granny Alice looks on, clearly being able to see that no one is driving. It's a good thing she doesn't care. I don't, either, believe me.

Billy was really sore that he had been grounded,
so he figured he would let Mom know that.

Nancy’s youngest daughter, Annoying Brat, continuously upsets the family as she speaks to The Lamp, insisting it contains the spirit of her dead father. In fact, the family is so upset about the loss of their husband/family that he isn’t mentioned a single time outside of a brief “why they had to move out” exposition (bad debt).

As The Lamp begins to take control of the Annoying Brat, she begins to go “crazy” and smile wickedly as if she could somehow pull off being threatening instead of simply irritating. At one point in the movie, the housekeeper is strangled by The Lamp's Haunted Power Cord of Doom, relegating everyone else to ask the little girl where she is over and over. And the annoying brat just smiles in her annoyingly evil manner and tells everyone that she’s “gone home.” She's so - in fact, wait. Stop. Fucking look at this:


Get your slapping hand ready.

After some tedious lolly-gagging, there is a brief moment when the family is separated, so Annoying Brat runs up the stairs to the attic, where The Lamp now resides. The door slams shut behind her and she fucks The Lamp.

No, I’m kidding.

I guess The Lamp is trying to possess her or kill her or whatever the TV was trying to do to Carol-Anne in Poltergeist, because this film is clearly trying to rip off the other.

Father Kibbler, who has attempted to contact Nancy several times during the movie to warn her of The Lamp’s evil intentions (haha, that's weird), performs a half-assed exorcism on The Lamp. And when that doesn’t work, he does what I’m sure tens of people were shouting at their televisions when this movie premiered years ago:

“Throw the fucking thing out the window.”

And boy, does he.

The Lamp sails down over the rocks of the neighboring shore-line and dies (maybe). The family rejoices and they trade hugs for hours and hours.

Then Granny Alice's cat sticks its cat face into the shattered lamp, and as it looks at the camera, its eyes grow red and promises another sequel that would have actually been more interesting than what we ended up with: teens in a non-Amityville haunted house.

"And in 1947, I sewed a whole mitten-NO, KEVIN!"


Mar 11, 2012

REVIEW: ZAAT

 

One day, a man named Kurt said "fuck humans" and turned himself into a giant, moss-covered fish monster. After doing so, he proceeded to swim around the Florida Everglades, murder, chase cute blonde girls in teeny bikinis, and be an all-around pain-in-the-fish. A special arm of law enforcement called INPIT (Inter-Nation Phenomena Investigation Team) is dispatched to the area to investigate the multiple slayings-by-fish that have occurred. This team consists of Agent Walker Stevens (the dude) and Agent Martha Walsh (the chick). The chick likes the dude, but the dude's obsession AND his near-brushes with death caused by said obsession cause the two non-lovers certain levels of stress. See, the chick loves the dude, and the dude just may love the chick, but the fish man of Florida often gets in the way of the two beginning a romantic courtship. (Somewhere, Chris Carter, creator of the ever-enduring "X-Files," is sweating this new DVD/Bluray release of ZAAT.) When Fish Monster isn't killing, or the agents aren't necking, there's a random dude – a prototype for the original hippie – singing entire acoustic tunes directly at the camera. It all, in the end, doesn't amount to much, and I'm sure in some alternate universe, my copy of ZAAT is still playing.

We'll just get quickly to the point: ZAAT is a pretty terrible movie. There's a reason that it's not only been mocked by our favorite human/robot team combination on an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," but also enjoys a current user rating of 1.7 out of 10 on IMDB. The movie is just atrocious, and anyone who has visited this blog in more than just passing knows that I love a good train wreckthe more incompetent, the better. All a bad movie needs for me to like it is this: take your premise seriously, even if your audience doesn't, and do not be boring. That's it. ZAAT, while taking its premise seriously (and vetting a serious cause), was mercilessly boring. That I even made it through the thing without falling unconscious is some kind of half-miracle, being that I once famously fell asleep in theaters during the plane crash scene in Castwaya scene filled with nonstop carnage and jarring noise in a movie that I truly loved.


But the tedium of ZAAT is not the reason I chose to forgo putting this review under my Shitty Flicks banner. No, I am choosing to highlight this movie on its own because of one important element: this completely undeserved, and frankly, pretty damn good little home video release.

ZAAT's history of home video releases is spotty at best. There are claims that ZAAT was released once prior to DVD in various titles, and not just in the aforementioned MST3K's Volume 17 in which the film was duly ripped apart. However, a quick search for "ZAAT" does not turn up any prior video releases of the film, not even on VHS. Whether this is accurate or not is not the point; no, my point is that this new release of ZAAT is just remarkable. Even without watching a brief side-by-side comparison of the film both pre-and post-remastering (one of the special features), you can easily see that a picture of this budget, reputation, and from this era, should not look as good at is does.

In a world where some movies with more prestige, talent, and critical acclaim (in comparison, anyway) have not yet enjoyed even a DVD release (William Friedkin's Rampage, for one), I have to ask: Who on earth puts this much effort info fucking ZAAT?

The fine folks at Film Chest, Cultra, and HD Cinema Classics, that's who. Not only was the picture remastered, but an audio commentary consisting of director Don Barton, co-writer Ron Kivett, actor Paul Galloway, as well as a film historian, is also provided. In addition, there is an audio interview with the film's monster (Wade Popwell), a theatrical trailer, and even a friggin' postcard!

All for ZAAT!


ZAAT gets points for making a film, albeit one as misguided and unintentionally hilarious as it may be, that tried to highlight the dangers of pollution that was occurring during the late 1960s/early 1970s in America. Recollections of ZAAT tend to lump it into the paranoia-fueled monster movies of the 1950s, which were all mostly reactions to "the bomb" and the dangers of radiation that could ensue should that bomb ever be dropped. Even today, innocent films like The Lorax are witch-hunted as liberal propaganda whose sole purpose is to brainwash the minds of children. Like the black-and-whites of the 50s, ZAAT, too, was a reaction to the current landscape of that time. And while anti-pollution movements and going-green initiatives are finally coming to prominence, know that efforts were made as far back as forty years ago to show you the threat was real. As goofy and dull as it may be, it was trying to do a hell of a lot more than most of the movies coming out today. Because of that, I'll give ZAAT all the credit in the world.



Mar 9, 2012

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN


I tend to buy books in bulk. It’s an impulse that I can’t control, which I’m fine with. In my estimation, a person can never have too many—unless of course they begin to line the walls in stacks and cover every inch of free space. I haven’t reached that stage yet, so I’m still good.

I mention this because by the time I finally picked up and read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children after having bought it months ago, I had completely forgotten what it was about. All I remembered at the time, before I began reading, was that the book made use of strange, vintage photographs from the early party of the 20th century, which were woven through the story to add visuals of our characters where possible.

So with only that knowledge in mind, I began to read.

Admittedly, the story did not immediately grab me—at least not in the way I wanted to be grabbed. Based on the cover of the book – and the gimmick of these old photos – I wanted something creepy. I wanted a tale about unnerving, diabolical children. I wasn’t even sure I wanted a strict narrative. Because of my obsession with true crime material, I probably wanted a dossier-like account of these children and what it was that made them so peculiar (read: deadly); and with their photos would come their names, their origins, under what circumstances they had become institutionalized in Miss Peregrine’s home…and in what foul ways they had murdered their victims.

What I got instead was Peter Pan meets X-Men.

Because of this, I admit to being disappointed throughout the first act of the book, yet continuing to read, anyway. The book focused more on fantasy and adventure than horror (not that I'm not adverse to those former two, mind you, but when you're expecting horror, you want horror), and so I was tempted to tune out. I was glad I didn’t, however, as the story eventually hooked me.

Our first-person narrator is sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman. His relationship with his grandfather is paramount, and when the old man tragically dies – possibly at the claws of a monstrous creature – Jacob is shattered. As the boy sits next to his dying grandfather, the old man uses his last breath to mutter to Jacob random phrases, seemingly incoherent and without meaning.

No one believes Jacob about the animal he believes was the result of his grandfather’s demise, telling him it was most likely a wild dog, so he begins his own investigation into what may have happened—and what the old man’s last words were all about.

One thing leads to another and Jacob finds himself on a faraway island, accompanied by his father, to learn more about the time his grandfather had spent there as a boy—living in an orphanage headed by Miss Peregrine.

There Jacob meets all manner of peculiar children with an array of peculiar talents. They shoot bees from their mouths, float effortlessly above the ground as if filled with helium, give life to inanimate objects using animal hearts; one child is outright invisible. Among them is Emma, a girl with whom Jacob will grow undeniably – and uncomfortably – infatuated.


What immediately strikes you about the book is how realistically it’s written, even as the events become more and more fantastical to the point of bordering on cornball. The story honestly feels like absurdly embellished memoirs instead of a traditional novel. Specific traits and interests, and even weaknesses and flaws, are added to different characters, fleshing them out and making them feel as if they are based on real people.

The real draw to me was the budding relationship between Jacob and Emma, which effortlessly made me recall my own romances from that age—something that still fills me with both fondness and regret. Without giving much away, Jacob does his best to resist falling for Emma, though they had already shared a very complicated relationship before ever meeting each other.

My only real gripe with the book has to do with its main selling point—the photographs. While the majority of the photos do add to the story, some do not, and at times felt like they were crammed into the book by the author with their inclusion being explained by some "Family Guy"-ish “remember that time?” anecdotes. I can understand having access to such strange and fascinating photos and wanting to use them, but some could easily have been excised and not affected the story. Not to mention that the placement of the photos also throws off the formatting of the book. In some cases, there may only a single paragraph on an entire page, because a photo will take up all of the following one. It’s a minor gripe, but after a while this choice interrupts the flow of the story

The book was a quick and easy read, and I’m glad I persisted on following it to the end, even after part of me had checked out. It was equal parts amusing, saddening, and unusual.

While the book's main conflict is resolved, it is clearly set up for further adventures. From what I understand, author Ransom Riggs has not announced any kind of sequel, but in this day and age when serialized young adult lit is huge, I wouldn't be surprised if he has the next three books outlined in his mind already. 

It was recently announced that Tim Burton will be bringing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to the bring screen. While I wish the man would direct a movie based on one of his own original scripts again (which is when we get stuff like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice), I have to admit this book is pretty much perfect for his fixation on Gothic visuals and dour characters.

Also, five bucks says Helena Bonham-Carter plays the titular role.