Thursday, December 31, 2009

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Silent Hill is kind of a weird franchise.

The first Silent Hill came out roughly around the same time as the original Resident Evil, making it one of the longest running video game franchises to date. The players made their way through the foggy streets of Silent Hill searching for your adopted daughter and gradually unraveling the secrets of the town. As the series went on, the mythology got more convoluted but the characterization became much richer. Unlike Resident Evil, where the characters because more and more invincible, the protagonists in Silent Hill became more and more vulnerable and human. The town itself became a sort of terrible crucible, forcing its hapless victims to confront their personal demons, often to grim results.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories reboots the franchise at the first game, jettisoning the convoluted Cult/Alessa mythology that bogged down much of the earlier games. The story again revolves around Harry Mason's search for his daughter amid the snowy streets of Silent Hill. His search occasionally leads him into shadowy nightmare realms, much like the Otherworlds of previous games, where faceless screaming things chase him across a frozen landscape.

The game's big selling point is that it plays you while you're playing it, that actions you take during gameplay influence which ending you get. Most of this is accomplished by a framing device where the player interacts with a therapist. It's a great idea in theory, but too much of it relies on yes-no questions during the therapy sessions. The only elements in gameplay that tips the result are really minor, petty things: if you linger your gaze too long on alcoholic beverages you get the drunk ending; if you stare too hard at pin-up posters you get the lusty dad ending. I would have been much happier with the game if more of the mindfuckery occurred in the game, not through the Q-and-A sessions.

Most of the game suffers from similar great idea/poor execution problems. The nightmare sequences in particular were a really good idea. You can't actually fight the creatures that come after you and so each sequence becomes a heart-pounding chase through the tundra of the protagonist's soul. While this sounds neat in practice, the lack of guides and signposts mean that you'll spend most of the chase scene running around in circles. This gets really, really frustrating. It took about a half-dozen run throughs before I got comfortable enough in these sequences to know where the hell I was going.

These things both sound like huge negatives, but I really enjoyed Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The game's storyline and twist ending, while preposterous, was still pretty captivating. The variations in personality types keeps it pretty varied and exciting. I also liked the game's creepy sexuality. Without giving too many twists away, most of the hauntings in the game have a strongly sexual component, done with a depth and maturity not often found in the medium. Finally, the game's music, which is always a strong point in Silent Hill games, was spectacular. I particularly liked the sadly nostalgic song the girl sings in the high school auditorium.

For all the game's flaws, creating a playground out of a damaged psyche makes for a chillingly good time. This is definitely one to check out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sketch of the Dead

Most zombie geeks tend to get into very weird conversations on the semantics of zombie existence? I have, and this funny little short film resonated with me. Go check it out.

Sketch Of The Dead

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bloody-Disgusting's Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade

As the first decade of the new millennium is winding down, all the blogs are doing their retrospectives of the best and worst of the past ten years. Mine's coming, but in the meantime, check out the one Bloody-Disgusting put together. You can find it here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I came across David Moody's Hater at the library across the street from where I work. The area I work in is conservative and quiet and the library shelves are usually stocked with tea-room mysteries and financial advice books. Moody's book, with its lurid, blood-streaked cover, immediately caught my eye. I picked it up, saw it got a blurb from Guillermo Del Toro, and decided to give it a shot.

The book tells the story of an unknown virus that turn people into primal, homicidal maniacs. Set in London, the story follows a man and his family as they slowly degenerate over the course of the crisis. After the family is divided by infection we learn the extreme steps the authorities have taken to quell the plague and we see the beginning of war between infected and the mundane world.

This is the first book I've read from Moody, who has apparently made quite a career self publishing post-apocalyptic horror fiction. He sells the world and the slow escalation of civil discomfort well. Most of the book is told in first person, with occasional delightfully violent interludes showing us other awful things going on in the Haterverse.

Much of the book feels like a zombie story. There's the sudden inversion of normal society, the panicked search for supplies and safety, the paranoid distrust of each other, and the sudden outbreaks of violence and civil unrest. As I've harped on incessantly in the past, I believe that horror is often a metaphor for social anxiety and Hater works particularly good at exaggerating the horrors of domestic terrorism. In an interview with Graeme's Fantasy Book Review, Moody confirmed that terrorism was at the core of Hater:

I’d always had an idea for a story which involved the human race ‘splitting’. I wanted to examine the impact that would have if people were forced to take a side, rather than choosing to. Originally, I’d planned for half of the population to become physically repulsive to the other! But then, in July 2005, I saw footage of the London suicide bombers which chilled me to the core. Incredibly, one of them was a classroom assistant in a primary school. I couldn’t believe how someone could have such a positive, important and trustworthy job, and then, literally days later, be on the Underground with a bomb strapped to their back, ready to kill as many people as possible. Those two themes combined were really the genesis of Hater.

As a tale of the fears of our neighbors suddenly doing us harm, Hater works remarkably well. It also stands out in characterization. One of the big things I took away from the book was my ambivalence toward the lead character. The protagonist, a family man trapped in a dead-end job, is pretty much a hater even before the plague takes over. He's petty, passive-aggressive, and simmers with barely contained rage at the people around him. His family, a bunch of chav-vy yobs, aren't any better. They read like the redneck family you stand behind in line at Target, the ones who are cussing at each other and are probably just an inch away from murdering each other. For a story about the destructive power of rage, this was an effective perspective to use, but I can't say I had a lot of fun hanging out with the guy.

Hater is definitely worth checking out. It ain't a happy story, but it touches a lot of buttons, both in terms of its War on Terror motifs and its disturbing take on domestic life. Take a gander at the author's blog here. As for me, I'm definitely checking out the next book in the Hater series, Dog Blood.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

To my small cadre of loyal readers, I want to wish you all a safe, scary, and happy holiday season! Thank you all for indulging me in my little rants on one of my favorite subjects. I had a very nice holiday season myself, as I'm sitting on new copies of Laid to Rest, Sweeney Todd, Murder Party, and Dance of the dead.

Stick around. We got more podcasts, more interviews, more top ten lists, and more demented ramblings! Me and Professor Demon Bunny both thank you for your support and wish you a happy new year.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Star Wars: Death Troopers

Well, they finally did it. They've been slapping zombies into everything and it was only a matter of time before they finally made a Star Wars Zombie novel.

I've been grousing for months about the complete saturation of zombies in pop culture. While I like the stuff I watch/read and can take the work on their own merits, when I take a step back and look at the zombie landscape, it's hard not to feel a little overrun. I've discussed before at length the basic appeal of zombies but as time goes on I'm starting to see this over reliance on the living dead as a quick way to generate drama. It's fundamentally interesting to watch characters under siege, but they better be interesting because most zombie stories follow the same basic structure: we run to sanctuary and sometimes we die. This one sticks to form, but it does a pretty good job of it.

The story follows the unfortunate crew of the Imperial Penal Starship Purge as they're forced to dock with an abandoned Star Destroyer after their engines go off-line. The salvage operation quickly turns deadly when they realize the Star Destroyer was conducting sinister biological experiments and they're not alone.

I tend to be leery of franchise books, occasionally to my detriment, but this one was actually pretty good. Author Joe Schreiber knows how to build suspense and atmosphere. We don't actually see the first zombie attacks until after the hundredth page, by which point we're immersed in the vicious culture of the Purge and the creeping tension of those endless dark Star Destroyer corridors. I liked the haunting image of the droids continuing their pre-programmed routines in the bowels of the dead ship.

I also dug the fact that the zombies weren't simply mindless Romero knock-offs. There's something sentient in their behavior and the individual zombies seem more like molecules of the same horrible mass-organism. The creature's method of infection is much more imaginatively vile. The method the ship's hapless doctor uses to cure one of the infected patients was visceral and extremely nasty.

The one complaint I had with the book was the fact that a couple of major characters from the movies take a fairly major role in the book. I have read a few other books set in the Star Wars universe and they tend to run roughshod over my beloved character's lives. Schreiber treats the characters with a lot more respect, but their appearance really didn't add anything to the story beyond an almost Pavlovian dread at what could happen to them. Plus, y'know, if I escaped a Star Destroyer full of zombies, it would probably come up in casual conversation.

Beyond this minor, and admittedly completely geeky complaint, I had a lot of fun with Death Troopers. It's a creepy and surprisingly effective horror novel, and it's a good solid popcorn novel even without the Star Wars tie-in. If you like it, Schreiber wrote the incredibly atmospheric Eat the Dark, which was one of the best horror novels I read last year. Also, apparently, there's a Star Wars Galaxies tie-in.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Wicker Man (1973)

You know those movies that everyone at the party has seen and can hold forth long discussions on and when you sheepishly say "Oh, I've never see it" and they all look at you like you're some backwoods yokel more suited to watching NASCAR than discussing fine works of art?

That's the way I felt about The Wicker Man.

Never got around to watching it. I really should have, as it's got so much stuff I absolutely adore: occultism, paganism, murder mysteries, nude British chicks, Christopher Lee in Cher drag, gay innkeepers and their slutty daughters, sleepy Scottish hamlets, corpse unearthing, and people randomly breaking into song. The Wicker Man is almost a musical, full of those sorts of dippy folksy hippy songs that would be considered some minor form of assault if performed in public.

More to the point, I love weird towns full of people acting strange. I was at a party recently and a friend of mine mentioned that she didn't like zombie movies because she didn't understand what was particularly scary about crowds. You could look outside any day and see crowds of people. "Maybe crowds of violent cannibals charging at you might not set you off," I should have said, charming my lovely companion, "but what if you were surrounded by perfectly polite, charming people who are thinking and communicating in a completely alien way."

Yep. Having those kinds of conversations keeps my social life active.

Anyway, yeah, Wicker Man.

Most of this flick doesn't have much in the way of tension. The jerky moralistic cop doesn't stagger around a lot of dark basements, waiting for a cat to jump out at him. Most of The Wicker Man takes the basic structure of a murder mystery. Sgt. Howie arrives on Summerisle searching for a missing little girl. First the townfolks say they never heard of the missing girl, then they admit she's dead, finally Sgt. Howie begins to suspect that they're keeping the girl locked away for a horrifying ritual to appease the island's ancient pagan gods.

And then there's a twist.

This is one of those rare horror movies where the hero isn't particularly likable. Sgt. Howie is an uptight, bullying prick, the kind the Empire would have tasked with destroying planets, and on top of all those winning qualities he's a religious zealot. When he's not butting into people's jobs and offices and homes, he is staring aghast at naked women and screaming "heretic!" at people. He's really quite the prick, but he's an ideal navigator for the island's weirdness. The movie goes quite deep into the islander's strange spiritual beliefs and it's amusing having an utter asshole haranguing against them every step of the way. It also makes Howie's eventual fate especially horrific. The villagers and their goofy religious beliefs seem harmless and kind of fun at first, but the horror really creeps in when we realize exactly what they need to do to keep their crops bountiful.

...oh, fuck it. SPOILER ALERT They stick Sgt. Howie in a big wooden man and burn him alive.

There's a reason I don't go to Burning Man, even though I have plenty of Burners among her friends. I'm the curious type and I do love strange, strange groups of people but I've always had this weird primal fear of the crowd of hippie/raver hybrids turn against me and stick me in their elitist counterculture temple when all I want to do is take drugs and have filthy mudsex. There's something about crowds of reasonable-seeming people doing something terrible and irrational to an outsider that holds a very instinctual fear in me. As previously stated, most of The Wicker Man is fairly unscary and staged like a tea room mystery. Towards the end, when the final ghastly parade begins, I suddenly sympathized with the doomed officer.

Definitely go check this movie out. Apparently The Wicker Man is considered to be one of the best movies that ever came out of Great Britain. Beyond that, alls I can say is don't watch the seduction scene with an older relative in the room, unless you want a really uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner.

This post is part of the Final Girl Film Club. For those of you who dug this post, welcome to my humble little blog. I'm a big horror fan and I like to apply my highly-honed, liberal-arts education bullshit shellacking skills to the stuff I enjoy. I cover movies, books, games, and music. We also got a podcast here. Welcome aboard!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy Friday the 13th

In all the rigamarole of work and classes and grad school applications, this little Creature completely forgot that today is Friday the 13th! Every year, this usually means cheesy slasher movie marathons with my friends, but I didn't realize or prepare for it. So tonight it's just me and my DVD collection. For the rest of you gleeful ghoulies, I wish you all a safe, fun, and stabby little Friday the 13th.

In celebration of the day, check out Final Girl's awesome post on Friday the 13th posters from around the world.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Favorite Vampires

I've always wanted to do one of these.

Every Halloween, and probably now after every Twilight movie, damn near every entertainment website publishes a list of their favorite vampires. As a for these kind of light articles, I always wind up a bit disappointed afterward. The lists are basically the same. It's the guy from Near Dark, the guy from Lost Boys, Edward, the kid from Let The Right One In, and a bone thrown to Count Orlock from Nosferatu as the scariest vampire ever captured on screen. By and large, these vampires tend to fall into two categories: the tormented creature of the night and the overenthusiastic predatory date rapist.

Don't get me wrong, the lists are usually pretty good. But there are a lot of great vampires out there that don't get a lot of recognition. So, without further ado, here's my favorite vampires:


My elementary school had a deal with Scholastic books where they sold tons of young adult books at discount. I'd bring their catalogue home and my parents, indulgent creatures that they were, bought me everything I wanted. Among the little treasures I picked up were kid-friendly versions of classic novels like Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula.

I loved those books. They introduced me to the fog-swept streets of Victorian England and the monsters that lurked among the cobblestone streets and tastefully-appointed drawing rooms. The books were wonderful gateways to imaginative fiction and classic literature. My favorite was, of course, Bram Stoker's immortal Dracula.

I loved the creepy Transylvanian Count, the decaying old keep on the mountainside, the sexy vampire women that inadvertently ushered me into puberty, the polite first meetings with the Count, Lucy wasting away, the chase across the mountains, and the exciting final battle between hero and monster. That shit was FUN.

The Count was cool. He was elegant and predatory and threatening. He hadn't been shellacked with that layer of romantic angst that vampires would pick up in the following years. Reading that book was a wonderful introduction to the character and it left a lasting impression on me. I have a copy of Dracula I picked up from my trip to Transylvania, I have a piece of masonry from Vlad Dracul's actual castle a few inches from me as I write this, and I've collected a bunch of goofy memorabilia. Dracula always was and will be the man.

Louis and Lestat

The whole romantic vampire thing started here. After Interview got published, vampires became less about monsters and more about power fantasies. Still, I have a lot of fondness for the silly, soppy little vampires of Anne Rice's tales.

I first encountered Lestat and Louis during my freshman year in high school, when I was all Gothic and susceptible to flowery prose. Until that point, vampires were undead soulless things, but getting to see history and morality from a vampire's point of view was fascinating.

I empathized more with Louis when I was younger. While all the superpowers and glamor sounds fun, I would have shared his distaste with hurting people. As time went on and my morality crumbled like a sand castle in a tsunami I came to love Lestat's "gentleman death" vibe. I didn't stick with the series long enough for him to become a Jesus allegory and I have come to understand that Anne Rice has since renounced her earlier work after her return to Catholicism. But I still greatly enjoyed both Interview and The Vampire Lestat.

Morbius The Living Vampire

Among my many nerdy obsessions, I was a huge comic book geek. I started reading during the late eighties, when dark-tinged supernatural heroes like Ghost Rider were big. Marvel, seizing on the popularity of the character, created a crossover series called Midnight Sons, reintroducing classic horror heroes into their own series. The best of all these books focused on Spider-Man's former vampiric nemesis Morbius The Living Vampire.

Morbius was unique in that he was not a supernatural vampire. The product of a botched medical experiment aimed at saving him from a life-threatening disease, Morbius developed powers and limitations suspiciously similar to a traditional vampires. While compelled to kill by a near-overpowering thirst, he was horrified by his actions.

One of the things I liked about Morbius was how intensely he struggled with his need for blood. Vampires are often a metaphor for addiction, though many romantic vampires jettison this aspect of the mythos. Morbius was a good man brought down by his curse, and the only way he reconciles himself with his needs is to prey on killers and other urban scum. He straddled the line between morality and damnation, and was pretty damn entertaining because of it.


Do you guys remember the third Castlevania game? In it, you could pick up one of three allies in your quest to take down Count Dracula. The most useful one was undoubtedly the wall-climbing pirate guy, but if you were willing to to cross the map you could enlist the assistance of Alucard, Dracula's estranged vampire son.

I loved the notion of playing a vampire. Sure, he didn't really do much beside change into a bat, but it was still a cool idea. Konami later expanded Alucard's role into a full game, the cult favorite Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Alucard was elegant and cool, and the notion of a son slaying his father for the greater good made for some interesting drama.


I'm not the world's biggest fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but they did get some things right. One of them was Drusilla, the mad seer vampire.

I loved Drusilla. She was gorgeous, she wore clothes and hairstyles from a different age, she spoke in delusion-fuelled poetry, and unlike most of the Whedonverse's vampires she never stopped being a nasty piece of work. Many of Whedon's vampire antagonists eventually came over to the light and often became diluted and boring but Drusilla remained a monster. She's one of those characters I'd like to transport into other horror stories because she shines a dark little light whenever she appears.


Garth Ennis's Preacher series, a cross-genre Vertigo series about a supernaturally-gifted preacher's search for God, gave us Proinsias Cassidy, Irish uprising volunteer turned vampire. He was one of the richest characters in comic history. Cassidy avoided the classical tropes of vampire. He didn't have fangs, he wasn't particularly elegant, and he was selfish and irresponsible. Unlike ninety percent of vampires-both good and bad-he was defined by who he was rather than the rules he had to live by.

I really liked Cassidy's backstory, particularly his involvement in the 1916 Easter uprising and his chance meetings with several historical and literary figures of Ireland and America. Vampires have the advantage of immortality and have the opportunity to witness history in the making. Most writers treat this aspect of vampirism in a very glib, shallow manner, but Cassidy's experiences are all cleverly filtered through his hard drinking, party-boy lifestyle. His wry observation on Brendan Behan's drinking and social habits are worth the price of admission alone.

Cassidy's lifestyle of overindulgence, fuelled by his body's ability to take whatever punishment life can throw at it, made him into a selfish, immature, weak person. He betrays his friends, sinks into drug addiction, hurts the people who care about him, and leaves a trail of ruined friendships in his wake. After burning every bridge and pissing away any shot at redemption, he reaches out to his last friend, trying to dig his way out of a very human damnation. Cassidy was a shit, but he's one of the best characters I've ever spent time with.


Hm. I was a little kid. I like vampires. I like bunnies. Just ask Professor Demon Bunny.

Therefore, I loved Bunnicula.


Remember that scene where the guy winds up in a strange dance club underneath a meat warehouse? He's in a weird crowd, enticed by a mysterious girl, and suddenly blood pours from the sprinklers. He screams, everyone cheers, and he realized they're all vampires. He runs away in terror, stumbles to the floor, crawls to safety, and just when all hope is lost...


Another one of Marvel's Midnight Sons characters, Blade really came into his own after he got into the movies. His world was dark and exotic, full of hedonistic vampires and the trappings of extreme wealth. Blade and his blue-collar operation wreck havoc on the vampire's ordered little world. It's all muscle cars and shotguns and harsh language, a far cry from Van Helsing's genteel efforts.

Invincible super-killers tend not to interest me, but Blade has some depth to him. As the series goes on we get the sense that Blade's quest borders on the fanatical He's at war with his predatory nature, he hates the vampire community yet he doesn't seem to like humans all that much. He exists in a terrible outsider state, orphaned and alone, turned cruel by his quest. Even when he's reunited with his supposedly dead father figure, the coldness Blade shows to the man while trying to figure out if he's turned reveals just how disconnected he is. It's a lonely life and Blade struggles to get by. He's just plain cool, and he is the obvious inspiration for Blacula Hunter Jefferson Twilight from The Venture Bros.


I have covered Let The Right One In at length before, in one of my better articles. The same stuff still holds true. I loved Eli's relationship with Oskar, I loved the weird combination of regret and viciousness that characterized Eli's personality. I loved the savage brutality of Eli's feeding, which is about a million miles away from any sexy neck nibbling. Like Cassidy, Eli works primarily because he/she is a great character. I am absolutely terrified about how bad the upcoming American remake will be.

Vampire: The Masquerade

There are two articles sitting on my blog dashboard that I haven't figured out a way to complete yet. One is on chilling Slave Labor Graphic mini-series Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and one on the now-defunct White Wolf RPG Vampire: The Masquerade. Both works had a tremendous impact on my adolescence.

V:tM is a game about secret societies of vampires operating beyond human awareness. You create a vampire and attempt to negotiate the Byzantinian politics of supernatural society, committing evil deeds while attempting to hang on to their last shreds of humanity.

V:tM worked because it covered every possible variation on vampirism. There were elegant vampires, thuggish vampires, exotic vampires, saintly vampires, devil vampires, and everything else in between. You could have a lot of fun creating an alternate persona for yourself. The system wasn't perfect and the mythology crumbled under its own weight, but it was a fun world to game in.


Back in the harsh and angst-ridden years of my mid-adolescence, I got involved in the Goth scene. My entire wardrobe went black, my music became much more down-tempo, and my hair got longer and very multi-colored.

I went to a small-town high school without much access to a counter culture, so me and my few "babybats" had nothing but the internet, some CDs, and old copies of Propaganda and Carpe Noctem magazine. We passed these little items back-and-forth between us and they lead us to the work of Gothling writer Poppy Z. Brite.

At the time, Poppy Z. Brite was famous in the Goth scene for writing Lost Souls, a vampire novel full of Goths, violence, New Orleans, and gay sex. Lots and lots of gay sex.

Seriously. Lots.

Obviously, this isn't a bad thing. Reading Poppy Z. Brite definitely broadened my mind. Once my frail little Catholic boy brain recovered from the shock, I found a really great story. Nothing, the moody protagonist, mirrored the isolation and impatience I felt from being a little odd in a square community. His slow awakening into his vampire heritage is fascinating to watch, and Brite is very good at painting Southern Gothic decay. It's a great book and writing this blog post has compelled me to re-read it.

Anyway, those are some of my favorite vampires. I hope you dug this list, and I'm sure I'll come up with a few more right after I publish this. In the meantime, enjoy the deluge of vampire romance.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Man, I love Halloween.

Halloween is the one time of year where the world looks the way I want it to. Most of the TV stations show nothing but cheesy monster movies (I'm watching AMC's Halloween marathon as I write this), all the stores got hokey trick-or-treat merchandise, tombstones and Jack-o-Lanterns decorate all the houses, and there's a certain macabre gleefulness everywhere you go. Even the squares get into it and I always love how gleefully inventive people get with this stuff.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and Halloween events run all through the month. Last week I attended a showing of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, hosted by legendary drag queen Peaches Christ. Actual Halloween parties start about a week early. Last week I was a Hemlock on Polk following my second viewing of Zombieland and there was a parade of constumed hipsters wandering by our window, giggling and ignoring the pushy homeless people.

I love living in a city that embraces the weirdness of Halloween so thoroughly. Last night I went to Death Guild's annual Gothic Halloween party, dressed as a demon priest. There were burlesque dancers and acrobats and a ton of awesome costumes, ranging from the inventive to the tasteless. I have some photos to share with you guys.

I've got spirit gum residue stuck to my head, a mild hangover, and I'm going out to do it all over again tonight. Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009



I've been working on a post about Zombieland all month. just ate it right as I was about to post it.

Go see it. Fuck you, blogger.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gateways to Geekery: Slasher Films

The Onion's AV Club website runs a regular feature called Gateways to Geekery, which provides a primer on various nerdy topics for the neophyte enthusiast. They did an excellent write-up of George Romero's work and they recently posted a great guide to slasher films. It's got a good selected viewing list, some pointed criticisms against slasher film detractors, and was clearly written by someone who shared our demented affection for this stuff. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trick Or Treat

Wow. Christmas came early for me this year.

I really, really loved Trick or Treat. I've been hearing about this movie for years through the interwebs. Like Midnight Meat Train there was a whole bunch of drama around its distribution and it's been sitting on a shelf for a long time. It's chillingly effective on the small screen and I really wish it had a chance to shine in theaters. Still, it's too good not to develop a following.

Trick or Treat is a Tales from the Crypt-style anthology film. All the tales take place over the course of a small town Halloween night. The tales are linked by "Sam", a creepy little boy in a burlap-sack mask who threads through the stories, sometimes as an observer and sometimes as a participant. As an embodiment of the nastiness at the heart of the holiday and he could easily become another horror icon.

The stories run the gamut from psychos to supernatural menaces, from deadly vampires to revenge from beyond the grave. The stories all employ familiar EC-style tropes but all the stories have little twists and turns that caught me by surprise. I didn't predict the ending to Anna Paquin's tale, which I'd originally written off as uninspiring and cliche. I did figure out the nasty little secret Brian Cox's curmudgeonly old Scrooge was toting around, but that didn't stop me from getting a big gleeful kick out of it.

It's not perfect. During one scene in the movie Sam appears in a traditional slasher role. It turned the character from a creepy watcher to an almost laughable Chucky-esque stalker. In addition, Sam gets unmasked during the fight. The face underneath the mask is decidedly unimpressive and laughable.

That's pretty much all I got for the negatives. There's too much stuff to like in this movie. I'm giving this my full and hearty recommendation, as opposed to my lukewarm meh-it's-mediocre-but-it's-horror-and-I-have-no-ability-to-be-discerning recommendation. Have fun with this one.

I may have to get a Sam tattoo.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Jennifer's Body

Man, Diablo Cody is running out of goodwill.

I really, really liked Juno, quirky hipster dialogue and all. I liked Juno and her little coterie and underneath the razzle-dazzle verbal sparring Diablo Cody created characters I actually cared about, with an ear toward teenager's real insecurities. After years of non-characters in teenage horror movies I was looking forward to an Oscar winning genre fan's take on the genre.

Plus, y'know, Megan Fox. Man, I'm only human.

The movie is...meh, okay. There's a lot to like about it, there's nothing really wrong with it, but there's just something missing. It feels like it straddles some gray area between black comedy, teenage drama, and Evil Dead-style gorefest. I'm a big fan of crossing genres and ideas, but this one felt like it was missing it's center.

Also, Megan Fox is pretty unlikeable. Granted she's the bad guy, but she's supposed to be seductive and enticing and possessed of a beauty that intimidates, like your very presence taints the ground she walks on and the air she breathes. From the beginning of movie all the way to the end, Jennifer is an unlikeable pile of shit. It's hard not to see her through the prism of her public persona, but she's not particularly seductive. She comes off as unpleasantly cocky and entitled. The movie would be a lot better if her character was more balanced.

Diablo Cody haters will have plenty to hate. Her quirky dialogue, charming-ish in Juno is a bit over-the-top and unrestrained, particularly in the beginning.
There's a lot of god-awful, unnatural quips and turns of phrases that no actor can deliver well.

The best stuff in the movie takes place in the club scene early in the film, where the stereotypical big-city hipster band. The notion of a band so desperate for success they'd turn to the black arts is kinda hilarious. I liked them in all their petty villainies.

The movie, like Juno, centers around a quirky outsider and her sweet shy boyfriend. I liked Needy, the girl living in Jennifer's shadow, and her goofy-charming drummer boyfriend. They're sweet and confused and I bought into 'em completely. I wanted to transport these characters into something more cliched and have them bring a bit more life to it.

Okay, that's all I got. Oh, and the movie has the best kissing scene I've ever seen. Go check it out.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Nightmare on Elm Street trailer

Oh. Man.

I'm generally a fan of the Platinum Dunes remake series. Sure, they're a little too formulaic and polished to really capture the gritty nastiness of the originals, but they're clearly made with some degree of reverence to the legacies that spawn them.

Freddy, more than other monsters, succeeds or fails based on the actor who plays him. Jackie Earle Haley is a pretty good fit. From the limited dialogue he has in the trailer, it sounds like he's playing Freddy Krueger with a speech impediment. This adds a certain creepy weakness to the character, the kind of personality tic you'd expect from a child murdering pervert janitor. He seems less confident, less obviously malicious, and more creepily evil. The trailer starts with a powerful man chasing a scared Freddy into the boiler room and we get the sense that he's a damaged and weak man, preying on kids, and the Elm street parents are a little too eager to see justice done. Maybe I'm wishful thinking here, but I really hope that the death of Freddy Krueger isn't as cut-and-dry as it was in the original.

The Platinum Dunes monsters have mostly been confined to the real world. This has worked well in Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th but it may work against them for the Elm Street remake. Given the flair and visual artistry of the previous entries, there isn't a lot of razzle-dazzle in the trailer. The dream sequences look brightly lit and barren and vaguely post-apocalyptic. The film makers have a lot of nods to the original, particularly with the bathtubs and the levitating bodies and the corpses dragged down hallways, but I'm hoping that the dream sequences keep that disjointed, creepy vibe from the originals.

Bottom line: looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

28 Days Later in one minute

I thought this was cute.

I haven't written anything on 28 Days Later yet, mostly because I'm a bit burned out on zombies and I'm saving it for when the well runs dry, but it's a great zombie movie. The kids at the University of York's film school put this together. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Song of Joy-Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

When most people think of horror in music, people think of the darker end of heavy metal, where graphic imagery and gruesome lyrics assault the audience in a blood-soaked orgy of...something. Indeed, the metal scene and horror fandom seem to walk hand-in-hand, and I've never been to a horror convention that didn't look like the lobby of a Cannibal Corpse concert.

I'm not the world's biggest metal fan. Metalocalypse did a great job of alternately parodying and celebrating the black metal aesthetic, but it's never really been to my taste or sensibilities. Sure, some of the content disturbs me but it seldom scares me. I tend to get my scares from stranger places, and one of the most beautifully chilling songs I've ever heard is Song of Joy by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Released in 1996 on Nick Cave's Murder Ballads album, which was an amazing collection of traditional murder ballads, Song of Joy tells the tale of a drifter who asks a man for shelter from the elements. As the song unfolds, the drifter tells the sad story of his family's murder at the hands of a stranger. As the song goes on and the drifter sinks into madness, we begin to suspect that the singer butchered his family and likely plans to kill the man he seeks shelter from.

I wish I had a bunch of clever stuff to say about this song. It's one of my favorites. I remember first hearing this song as a teenager, when I bought the cassette from a Warehouse music store in Colma, California. This song creeped the hell out of me as I waited for the bus, surrounded by miles of Colma's famous cemeteries. There was something genuinely evil about the song, something that strayed deeper than the shock-lyrics of black metal. It's a great story, frighteningly told, and it touches the strange black part of my soul that loves this stuff. I tried to find a way to embed the song in this post, but the best I could do was provide a link here. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sorority Row

Awright, I wanna start this one off with a big fat spoiler warning: I'm going to talk about the killer's identity. I'm not normally concerned with ess-bombs, but this movie is fresh and there are people who wanna play guess-the-killer. It ain't gonna help; the movie provides no hints or logical clue path and the killer comes completely out of left field. There's some interesting subtextual stuff I want to poke around in, but if you're keen on keeping a few mysteries fresh you may want to skip this review.

In case you haven't guessed, Sorority Row is I Know What You Did Last Summer as well as every other teen-targeted Christopher Pike/R.L. Stine horror novel you've ever read. A bunch of kids are united by a Dark Secret and someone knows it and torments them with it. There's a bunch of social drama mixed in with the slasher carnage and it turns out that some diabolical bastard/bitch is behind all the mayhem.

All in all, Sorority Row is pretty fun. There's absolutely nothing new here and if I had any proper taste I'd probably run from the theater in a cloud of panic and pretension. Eff it. I had a good time. There's a good bit of tension and a few good scares, even if the director LOVES tight, out-of-focus close ups.

Dark Secret slasher flicks tend to be SLIGHTLY more character driven, as we see the people bound by tragedy degenerate under the stress. All this is well and good, but the women in Sorority Row really are assholes. Those that aren't actively self-interested and malicious are either terminally stupid or completely spineless. It's revealed by the end of the movie that each of the girls had done everything short of announcing in the paper their complacency in the homicide. And I'm not entirely sure what the point of the prank that started the whole mess was. Make a guy believe he killed someone and take him out into a quarry? Yeah, that' Way to pull a fast one.

I have been reading a lot lately that the mainstream horror audience is heavily female. Sorority Row was definitely targeted toward a female audience, and the theater I saw the movie in was full of small clusters of teenage girls. The male characters in the movie are either background noise, glorified accessories, or dangerously incompetent. Sure, the lead sisters are broadly drawn sorority stereotypes, but their relationships are much more realistic. The lead sororitina was pretty and strong and capable, someone you can easily identify with. Finally, Sorority Row ditches the whole puritanical sex-equals-death cliche. Sure, one of the characters is tagged as the movie's slut, but that speaks less to the tropes of the genre and more to the poisonous conformity of sorority life.

Sorority culture isn't actually portrayed very warmly. The initiation rituals and social stuff, especially the bit where the girls inspect pledge's bodies for physical imperfections, is pretty vile. The girls are clearly just killing time until they can make an advantageous society marriage, and two of the main characters are primarily motivated by keeping their menfolk happy. And it becomes pretty clear that all the girl's talk of sisterhood and solidarity is actually pretty meaningless. For want of a better term, the sorority sisters are pretty bitchy. There's usually a few sympathetic characters in these movies, but in this movie you start rooting for the killer pretty early on.

The killer's identity was one of the stranger points of the movie. After all the song and dance, it turns out the guy toting the sharpened tire iron is none other than the final girl's boyfriend, a class valedictorian and all around golden boy. He found out about the crime from one of the others and takes it upon himself to clean up the mess by playing dicky mind-games with the others and killing his way through a graduation party. Granted, all Dark Secret slasher flicks seem to suffer from Third Act Insanity, where every starts acting screwy in an attempt to throw red herrings all over the place, but this was really kind of a stretch. He ultimately had little personal involvement in the whole sordid business and it's kind of a stretch to believe he's killing people for his aloof girlfriend. It's like the dude from Twilight gone bad.

This may be another case of Gibb worship, but my favorite character in the movie was Chug, the drunk party girl. Aside from being the best actor in the movie, her character was the most rich. She was damaged, confident, jaded, and snarky. Of course she was the first one to go.

Oh, the flick features Carrie Fisher in her most badass role since Princess Leah. Sure, she can't aim a shotgun worth shit, but her exiting line is so fucking cool.

So, yeah, that's my two cents. Enjoy the poster, which hearkens back to the awful slasher movie posters from the early 90s where every poster was just a bunch of pretty people looking nervous.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Halloween 1 and 2

There is nothing more controversial in the internet horror community than Rob Zombie's Halloween remakes.

Some people think the are vicious, uncompromising, take-no-prisoners masterpieces of modern horror. Others think they're a travesty of John Carpenter's original work, soaking the eerie horror of Michael Myers in Zombie's white-trash aesthetic. Either way, ever since the "hobo Myers" images released some months back, the boards at Bloody-Disgusting have been essentially one big screaming match. Because of that, I can't really write this essay in a vacuum.

I didn't like Zombie's Halloween remake much. I do think humanizing Michael Myers removes a lot of the mystique of the character, Zombie's shock-offensive dialogue sounded ugly and unnatural coming out of the mouths of innocent teenagers, and the jump in focus from Myers to Laurie Strode resulted in a movie that felt like it was missing its center. Despite all this, I can't seem to stop myself from watching the movie every few months or so. Underneath the problems I have with Halloween, it was clearly made with an enthusiasm that makes the experience infectious.

That pretty much describes my feelings toward this new one.

I was kinda optimistic, despite all the hobo/maskless Myers stuff. The trailers hinted at a supernatural angle, which I really missed in the original. The trailers emphasized a supernatural element, something I felt was missing in the original. Michael Myers's life, crimes, and death were all pitifully human. It made him a psycho, but it really didn't make him a monster. This one appeared to have Michael Myers' mother commanding him to kill Laurie and reunite the family in death. Sure, that doesn't really jibe with his mother's nicer incarnation in the earlier movie, but at least he's got some of his old mojo back.

I think Zombie has a lot of potential. The Devil's Rejects was a helluva movie and I like directors who take their horror seriously. Having said that, the dude does have a white trash aesthetic that doesn't necessarily jibe with the subject matter. When he's writing a bunch of outlaw banditos the dialogue works, but when he's writing teenagers in a small suburban community he completely misses. This is where I get all "but it's not the Halloween I rememmmmmberrrrr..." but I always remembered Haddonfield as a boring suburb, not a rotted meth-lab town. I don't remember Laurie Strode talking like an angry metalhead trying to shock her parents. This is kind of a goofy thing to say about a horror movie, but it's all meaner and uglier than I want it to be.

One of the core problems of the remakes is Zombie puts too much focus on too many characters. The movie would have been better served with following Laurie bouncing between her, Myers, and Dr. Loomis. The iconic Dr. Loomis really gets the short end of the stick here, as he spends the movie being unpleasant until he dies for no reason.

Speaking of unpleasant...

I do have to give credit to Rob Zombie and Scout Taylor Compton for making Laurie Strode's damaged mental state believable. The best final girls, from the original Laurie Strode to Scream's Sydney Prescott are all traumatized by their experiences. They become isolated, suspicious, and destructive, and their vulnerabilities become as much of a challenge as the maniacs that stalk them. Zombie's Laurie Strode is a very honest portrayal of how a terrified young woman would behave. She fluctuates from chaotic to destroyed, and it's a really good portrayal. Unfortunately, she's not particularly likable. I liked her room mate/friend Annie Brackett better.

I gotta get this out of the way: I have a HUGE crush on Danielle Harris, the actress who played Annie Brackett. I keep meaning to write a big I HEART DH article on her, but the long and the short is I think she's more adorable than a basket of bunnies, even Professor Demon Bunny.

But Annie comes off as a much more sympathetic and likable character than Laurie. She's much more composed, much more confident, and much more capable than Laurie, even though she was arguably put through far worse in the first film. I thought it was interesting that she lived with and took care of Laurie, but was not in her social circle anymore. She even occasionally seemed exasperated with Laurie's behavior, which wouldn't have been out of line given that Laurie seemed to go gutter-punk chic.

So having Michael Myers rape and butcher her was a little bit much.

We all knew she was going to die. The trailer shows her running away from Myers. But Myers goes a step further and rapes her. It's not entirely out of character, as Zombie's Myers is a much angrier and more vicious creature, but raping Annie took the character and the story into a much uglier direction.

Horror creators have a symbiotic relationship to their creations. Brian Pulido looked very similar to his Evil Ernie and Michaeal Myers looks kinda like Rob Zombie on steroids. I do kinda wonder what compelled Zombie to include such a scene.

Beyond that, quibbles. Why did Myers show up to the party, zero in on Laurie's one friend, and disappear after murdering her? Why is Mrs. Myers such an evil bitch now after being such a nice person in the original? What exactly was Dr. Loomis thinking when he entered that shack in the end? What was with all the goddamn close-ups?

Whatever. Despite all the grips, I'm still gonna see it again and I'm probably gonna own the DVD. Unkle Lancifer at Kindertrauma wrote an amazing article defending the movie. Also, here's a Rob Zombie interview. Finally, here's the cream-of-the-crop of the horror blogadoo world weighing in on Old vs. New Myers. Enjoy!