Friday, December 31, 2010

A Look Back At 2010 - In The Helicopter Bay Special Edition

"Special edition" - yeah, don't make a huge deal out of that. This is just going to be me reflecting back on the year here at The WGON Helicopter.

The first thing I want to do is thank everyone for reading. I check the stats of the blog every so often, and it's nice to know I've got people checking out my brain-flares now and then, and from all over the world. Welcome to the blog if you're new, thanks for staying if you're not.

I also wanted to thank members of the horror blogging community who have been supportive and just plain awesome people to read and with whom to share ideas. I'm going to add more blogs over there to the right in my blogroll because seriously, there are so many to recommend if you haven't checked them out. Maybe a new future feature for the Helicopter would be to pick one blog and give a big ol' thumbs-up to them every now and again. Hm...

Looking back, I see Sleepaway Camp was the film I began the year with, and I watched it before and after midnight on January 1, 2010, hence the "clever" title I gave that article. Sleepaway Camp was definitely big fun, but what would be my list for the top five movies I watched in 2010? I saw a lot of really good movies, a couple not-so-good, and a few in between. Now watch: I'll make a top five list, publish it, then remember I liked another movie that I should've included and facepalm myself. Ah, well. I'll make it a top SEVEN then. So there. Let's take a look:

My 7 Favorite Movies I Wrote About In 2010 That I Hadn't Seen Before (in no particular order):

The Monster Squad - I finally had a chance to see this movie from start to finish after watching it piecemeal over the course of 20 years. It's a true cult classic with snappy characters, menacing monsters, lines of dialogue that are quoted to this day, and the awesome Tom Noonan as Frankenstein's Monster. Movies that stir a reaction in me are ones I like to write about, and The Monster Squad evoked pure joy.

Triangle - The most-read article on the blog, this turn-your-mind-into-tapioca movie still has elements that haunt me to this day. The "what-if's" and the "what we don't sees" are effectively used as weapons to assault our tender brainpans in this intelligent, loopy thriller.

I Sell The Dead - I expected it to be fun, but not as much fun as I had watching this little gem. Full of lively, kinetic energy, this film features a fresh new take on the grave robber genre, a popular subsection of horror many years back. The movie crackles with motion and dialogue, but most especially wild ideas.

[REC]2 - In my opinion, the [REC] series is currently the most terrifying horror movie series going. It takes the first-person perspective (or gimmick, as some might say) and does it right, creating a frantic, horrifying atmosphere. I like where the series is going, and I hope the next in the sequence will top the first two in terms of sheer horror. It's a high bar that's been set.

Ink - Although not technically a horror movie, this independent beauty held me tight to the screen. I couldn't look away, the creativity and the emotional beats still resonate to me right now as I think of it. An example of what kind of film can be made without studio restrictions and, well, fear, Ink brings the use of the fable back to life.

Lake Mungo - I know I said "no particular order," but Lake Mungo is the number one on this list. Not since I was a child have I needed to turn on the lights during a movie. This one did that to me, and I love it for that. You don't need garish special effects, big-name or "pretty" stars direct from The CW, or a sly fourth-wall "wink" to the audience to make an effective, emotional horror movie. Like a passionate wrestling fan once said regarding his emotional fandom, "It's still real to me, dammit!"

(Honorable mentions: Inside, Inferno, The Children, The Crazies remake, and Sleepaway Camp)

2010 was also the year I started attending the Chiller Theatre Expo in Parsippany, New Jersey. Lost in throngs of fellow horror fans, it's a bit overwhelming. But I did get to meet David Crawford of Dawn of the Dead as well as the great Zacherley, once the host of the original Chiller Theater TV show. I plan on being there again in April (when it's far less crowded), ready to get some nice pictures and memorabilia.

This past year, my comic book and zombie thrills were made "flesh" when The Walking Dead finally hit the small screen, thanks to AMC. I've been reading the book for years (just got Volume 12 for Christmas) and to see Rick Grimes and all the great characters of Robert Kirkman's comic series come to life was truly something to see.

In 2010, I was also honored to join some fellow horror bloggers over at Cinema-Geek, writing about films out of the horror genre. Finally, I get to write an article about Woody Allen's Radio Days or Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind (two I have planned for the coming year).

Oh, yeah, and The WGON Helicopter turned one year old in March (how fitting) of 2010!

I look ahead to 2011 and think about what I can do with the blog. I'm going to write more articles about non-film horror vehicles, such as books and games, plus I'll continue to write about things from my past that contributed to my love of the genre. Hey, I'll even do more lists.

That's it for now, my friends. 2010 ends - as of this writing - in about 10 1/2 hours. I wish a fantastic 2011 for all of you - stay safe, don't stray too far from the shelter, and keep limber.

But really, have a HAPPY New Year and I hope your festivities are wild and/or memorable for all the right reasons.

See you next year!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mother Of Tears (2007) I Want A Monkey Helper

I was really rooting for this movie. Honestly, I really was. Mother of Tears has a tremendous pedgiree: it's the final chapter in a trilogy that put director Dario Argento in the pantheon of legendary directors. It should been the climax of the trilogy that started with 1977's Suspiria and continued with 1980's Inferno. But it seemed like a modern shadow, a ghost dressed up in sparkly 21st century clothes. The previous two had something about them; an atmosphere or a "feeling." Mother of Tears left me feeling like I'd seen a pretty good modern movie about a powerful, evil witch, but didn't leave me feeling like I'd experienced it.

Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) aids in the investigation of a strange box dug up in a graveyard in a small Italian villa. The box contains several items connected to a powerful witch known as Mater Lachrymarum or Mother of Tears. She is reputed to be the last survivor of a trio of witches called The Three Mothers. In Suspiria, we met Mater Suspiriorum and in Inferno, we met Mater Tenebrarum. If you've seen those movies, you know how those two panned out. Mater Lachrymarum, however, is the most powerful of the three. When the box is opened, demons and the Mother of Tears herself descend on the poor woman helping Sarah, and she dies a rather grotesque death. Sarah escapes the demons, the Mother, and the most adorable evil monkey ever thanks to the disembodied voice of what she later finds out is her own mother, a white witch of considerable power.

Much like the other films, from here on out, disaster follows Sarah wherever she goes. The son of her boyfriend is kidnapped and well...let's just say he doesn't make it. Rome falls into a state of chaos, with people randomly committing acts of mayhem and murder. Sarah is pursued by the police, who think she murdered her poor friend at the museum. Sarah's boyfriend - the one with the missing son - runs afoul of some of the young witches gathering in Rome to celebrate Mater Lachrymarum's rise.

Sarah takes a train to meet with an experienced exorcist (Udo Kier), but that trip is fraught with craziness. Several arriving witches and the police chase down Sarah, who is told by her mother's disembodied voice that she has the ability to turn invisible. Pulling a Harry Potter, Sarah escapes the police, but ends up brutally smashing a witches head in a bathroom door.

The priest tries to help, but the infection of insanity has spread to his door. His assistant goes on a mini-killing spree, taking out her own son and the priest before offing herself. Sarah and Marta, a visiting psychic who provides a lot of answers about Sarah's past, escape the compound, but just barely. Marta invites Sarah to stick around, but pretty soon the cute little monkey familiar shows up with magical wacko. Sarah runs outside and tries to call Marta and her lover, but they are dispatched with horrible gusto.

Sarah runs into her lover, Michael, but he's too far gone, having been killed and reanimated for the Mother's purposes. Sarah gets away, thanks to the Jedi apparition of her helpful mom. Sarah then seeks out the help of a powerful alchemist, who gives her a copy of the book, The Three Mothers. If you recall in Inferno, that book is trouble. But it does help Sarah uncover some of the clues as to where the Mother of Tears is hiding out: an old mansion in Rome designed for her by the alchemical architect Verelli, the man who designed the dance school in Suspiria and the apartment building in Inferno.

Sarah heads deep into the catacombs below the mansion - a running theme through the three movies, that the protagonists must face the evil in subterranean surroundings. With the help of the policeman in charge of her pursuit, Sarah confronts the Mother of Tears in a short battle that ends much like the first two movies. You could say it's a tried and true ending, but in keeping with the symbolism of the number 3, this Mater is taken out in a very similar way with very similar surroundings.

There were some good things about the movie, I can say. Asia Argento is easy on the eyes, so I'll get that out of the way first. Delving deeper, the connection to the previous two movies is made quite clear in such a way that you don't have to have seen the first movies (you should anyway) to get what's happening in this one. The heroine of Suspiria is mentioned by name, and the buildings where the first two witches lived are illustrated in The Three Mothers as a bit of nostalgia. A reason is also given for Mater Suspiriorum's relatively easy defeat as well, and her role in Sarah's life brings it full circle.

But what's missing are the things that made the first two movies so special to me. The color palette I loved so much isn't there. It looks good, but it doesn't have that emphasis on moody color - the stark and rich reds and blues - the first two movies have. And where's that crushing atmosphere? The one where, even in open spaces, there's a feeling of being trapped or crushed or boxed in. The heavy atmosphere that no matter what the hero did, you really weren't quite sure if they'd make it because hey, the evil they're facing is just so freakin' strong.

There weren't any cats in this movie - a good thing for cat lovers, given their role in this trilogy - but monkey fans will find their hearts stolen by this little guy:

You take a size 4 or 5, lady?

I really wanted to love this movie, but it gets a lukewarm "OK" from me. That's my opinion. Compared to a lot of modern attempts at artsy horror, it did hold up fairly well. In most circumstances, it's unfair to hold a film up to its predecessors, but the way I see it is that it's part of a high-profile trilogy by a hugely renowned director.

Nobody's perfect, though. And I still love Argento's work.

Until next time, fellow survivors, remember that a monkey helper is nice, but they might betray you to a powerful witch, so keep that in mind.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In The Helicopter Bay 12-3-10

Just a real quick set of tidbits for the day:

-- I mentioned it at the end of my look at the film Ink (which I still love), but I wanted to bring it up again. Recently, I was honored to accept an invitation from Nate Yapp to write for a blog called Cinema-Geek, a collection of articles by horror bloggers...about non-horror movies. I'm in great company there, along with Nate: B-Sol of The Vault of Horror, Andre of The Horror Digest, Pax of Billy Loves Stu, and Ryne of The Moon Is A Dead World. Take a peek, and check out their individual blogs as well.

-- I was checking out the stats of my blog recently just for kicks and found some interesting nuggets o' trivia:

* The most popular blog entry is the one I wrote about Triangle: 2,707 views - almost 1,000 more than the one I wrote about Trilogy of Terror.

* Most of the traffic comes from Google, but some viewers have kindly jumped over after reading the fine blogs at The Horror Digest and Kindertrauma.

* Some interesting search terms led to my blog, including "divided by zero," "chiller theatre," "herb tarlek," and "corbin bernsen."

* Over 10,000 hits have come from the good ol' US of A. The United Kingdom had around 1,600, with Canada (1,150) not far behind. Sweden checked in with around 250 - I lived in that country for a year as an exchange student. I get some visitors from Greece, The Netherlands, Israel, and the Czech Republic. Welcome, everyone!

-- Take a gander at this indie vampire film with a twist, passed along to me by producer Matt Compton, called Midnight Son. Matt's one of the producers, along with writer/director Scott Leberecht, and executive producer Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project). The cast includes Zak Kilberg, Maya Parish, Jo D. Jonz, Arlen Escarpeta, Larry Cedar, and Tracey Walter.

According to Matt, Midnight Son "is the story of Jacob, a young man confined to a life of isolation, due to a rare skin disorder that prevents him from being exposed to sunlight. His world opens up when he meets Mary, a local bartender, and falls in love. Tragically, Jacob’s actions become increasingly bizarre as he struggles to cope with the effects of his worsening condition. Forced by the disease to drink human blood for sustenance, he must control his increasingly violent tendencies as local law enforcement narrow their focus on him as a suspect in a series of grisly murders."

Here's a link to the trailer: and one for the website:

Check it out - it looks very interesting!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Inferno (1980) Don't Touch That Book

Watching a good Dario Argento horror movie is like a big colorful funhouse. Some of the images thrown at you are ridiculous and scary at the same time in a way that is entirely unique and never boring. A lot of people hold Argento in high regard, and it's no surprise he's one of the fathers of modern suspense and horror - well, the good parts of it, anyway.

Starting with 1977's Suspiria, Argento set out to tell the story of The Three Mothers, three immensely powerful witches hidden throughout the world, manipulating reality. He would begin with the aforementioned Suspiria and finish it with 2007's Mother of Tears. Bridging the gap would be 1980's Inferno. Where Suspiria introduced the Mother of Sighs, Inferno brought us the Mother of Darkness and despite all the darkness in the film - nearly the entire film takes place at night - there are rich palettes of color throughout, something I always find to be a treat in Argento's films.


The story finds an old book, The Three Mothers, falling into the hands of Rose, who thinks she may be living in one of the witches' houses as described in the book by an architect named Varelli. Rose sends a letter about it to her brother, Mark, then descends into the basement to investigate. She finds a hidden underwater room containing a portrait titled "Mater Tenebrarum" (Mother of Darkness) and is startled by the surprise howdy-do by a rotting corpse. She escapes, but already, the eyes of evil are upon her - somebody's watching the girl. In Rome, Mark reads the letter from his sister, then is distracted by a smokin' fellow student holding a cat and practicing a silent charm like Snape in the first Harry Potter movie:

Hubba-hubba. Wait...did you just curse me?

The woman - who is quite possibly the third Mother, the Mother of Tears - disappears and Mark wanders off to search for her, leaving the letter behind. Inquisitive friend Sara reads the letter and stops off at a local library to further her research of The Three Mothers. She gets lost in the bizarre basement of the library before escaping back to her apartment, where she asks a fellow tenant to stick around and keep her company. He's thinking, "Sweet. Score!" until right about the time he gets a knife through his neck. Sara doesn't get too far before she's murdered as well.

Mark starts putting pieces together and attempts to get a hold of his sister, but neither he nor Rose can hear each other on the phone. Rose is then pursued by some mysterious figures and gets repeated shots of a glass panel against the throat for her troubles. Seriously, that book...just steer clear of it.

Mark arrives and finds that Rose has disappeared. In the meantime, he meets several of Rose's neighbors, including elderly Professor Arnold and his nurse, the Countess Elise, and the book store owner who sold Rose the book in the first place, the detestable Kazanian (the guy likes to drown cats, so yeah, detestable). Mark gets all fainty when he finds some blood spots and is set upon by a shrouded figure, which turns its attention to Elise, who is watching from a window. Elise runs, but is attacked by SUDDEN CATS* before she's stabbed.

The nurse and the building's caretaker take care of Mark until he decides he's with-it enough to ask Kazanian some questions. The book proprietor remains tight-lipped about Rose and Mark gets nothing. Later that night, during one of his gleeful cat-drowning sessions, Kazanian is attacked by rats and a possessed hot dog vendor in the park. At this point, I began to wonder if the evil was truly evil for offing the sadistic Kazanian.

People continue to drop like flies as a butler is terminated, and the caretaker inadvertently causes a fire and falls to her death. Mark, much like Suzy in Suspiria, explores deep into the bowels of the building where he uncovers some shocking truths about the building and about the tenants he meets. I won't spoil it here, but it's safe to say he meets Mater Tenebrarum.

Like many of Argento's movies, Inferno is beautifully shot and framed with meticulous care. Angles and colors play important parts; the way the blues and the reds stand out, as well as how a hallway or a sidewalk scene is shot. I don't know if I'm the only one who feels this way, but I'm going to take a stab - no pun intended - in the dark here. Inferno has a "claustrophobia in open spaces" feeling to me. I don't really mean "agoraphobic," I mean it manages to create a weight even in scenes shot in large rooms or outside. This bizarre world crushes down on Mark, and in turn, us. There's no escape for anyone who's even remotely associated with The Three Mothers. I don't know...I just got that sense of every angle of every area as unforgiving or heavy. I liked it. Just goes hand-in-hand with how Argento conducts a movie.

So that's two of the three "Three Mothers" movies down, one to go in Mother of Tears. We'll get to that crazy bridge when we get to it. Until then, survivors, if you see that accursed book in your local antique book store, run like the wind, I tell you. Run. Wind.


*It's actually a sudden swarm of angry cats, but SUDDEN CATS is more fun to say.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) Rorschach Gets Stabby

Ah, yes. Remakes.

It seems to be all the craze right now. Like the hula hoops and the Steve Urkel lunchboxes the kids are into these days, remakes of horror films - just about any film, really - seem to be all the rage. And sometimes, rage is the emotion they evoke. Once in a while, you get a remake that's done right, say, like the remake of Dawn Of The Dead. Respects the original without ripping it off or mocking it. Others, like the upcoming remake of the slug-in-the-gut, purely visceral Martyrs, bring about question marks. Does every foreign horror film have to be remade? And does every horror film have to be remade into a vehicle for pretty, savvy teens to audition for the CW Network? Oh, well. We'll always have Paris. And by Paris, I mean the originals.

I remember 1984. I was 17, just back from a year in Sweden as an exchange student. Still feeling my wild teenage oats. You know, hula hoops and Urkel lunchboxes and all. I went to see this new movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, after hearing about it from my friends. I wasn't sure what to expect, but thanks to one Wes Craven, I practically peed myself from fright. I'd never seen anything like it, which is a common theme with Craven's films. Freddy Krueger was unlike any horror killer before him: he fed on fear and belief, and murdered in the dreamscapes of others (or brought them into his own reality to kill, either way...). The role cemented Robert Englund as a legend in horror films, spawning several sequels and a TV show along the way.

Along comes 2010, and as I mentioned before, remakes and reboots are "en vogue" right about now. There was a collective groan from the horror community when just on the heels of the divisive Halloween remakes, a remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street was in full swing. My fears were softened a bit with the casting of Jackie Earle Haley, fresh off of his so-much-like-the-book portrayal of the superhero Rorschach in Watchmen. I grew up on Haley's work in The Bad News Bears and Breaking Away, and was overjoyed to see him make a comeback - albeit in a creepy role in Little Children - so knowing he was Freddy Krueger made some of it easier to take. Unfortunately - and not unexpectedly - the movie employed the same formula as most "savvy modern teens in horror" remakes and it didn't stand out. It just became another movie.

As viewers, we don't have to wait long for the action to start in the movie. Dean, looking worse for wear, talks to Kris about his nightmares seeming too real and that he hasn't slept in three days. He nods off and meets Freddy Krueger, struggling with him in a dream world before dying there and in the real world, in front of Kris and Nancy, a waitress at the diner where this all happens. At Dean's funeral, Kris sees a picture of herself with Dean as kids, but doesn't recall ever knowing him until high school. Pretty soon, Kris is dreaming of Freddy and allows ex-boyfriend Jesse to keep her company while her mom is away. In a death very much like Amanda Wyss' Tina in the original, Kris is tossed around by an unseen force before being slashed open in front of Jesse. Jesse runs to Nancy's house to plead his case before being captured by the police. It isn't long before Jesse falls victim to Freddy while in his jail cell. It comes down to Nancy and Jesse's friend Quentin - who has a crush on Nancy - to uncover the mystery of this burned man and why there seems to be a connection between them and other strange deaths of kids their age.

I don't always want to come across like I instantly don't like remakes. Like I've said, some remakes work. The Seven Samurai remade as The Magnificent Seven works. The Thing From Another World redone as The Thing, and the aforementioned Dawn Of The Dead retelling are really quite good. This remake, honestly, did nothing for me.

That's not to say that it was all bad. It wasn't. I liked Haley as Freddy, and I did like the little touch of enhancing his voice whenever he spoke. Gave him an "omniscient" tone, much like Tony Todd in Candyman. In this movie, there is no doubt as to what he was before he was attacked by an angry mob of parents, and that lends some disturbing atmosphere to the character. The "body bag" moment, much like the original, lent some creepiness to the scene. I also liked Rooney Mara's performance as Nancy. She was portrayed with more social awkwardness and less "girl on the edge of being popular" than Heather Langenkamp's original role. She came off smart and haunted, which was a nice touch.

Otherwise, the movie didn't stand out. It wasn't - pardon the pun - a cut above anything else Hollywood wants to churn out. It didn't have a fresh energy or a unique fingerprint. It was an imitation. Some plot holes really, really stood out, though. Memory repression? Every single kid had it? Not a single one could even suspect something had happened in their youth? No explanation, just...repressed memories. I had trouble with that one. And the story didn't pop. This happens...then this happens...then this happens. Despite some neat moments, it just didn't resonate.

As I said before, we'll always have Paris in the original 1984 Wes Craven classic. And we'll always have Memphis wrestling, which made Freddy Krueger into an in-ring character:

Until next time, fellow survivors, watch your back when you fall asleep.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ink (2009) Creativity Isn't Dead

Several months ago, my friend and fellow horror blogger Andre from The Horror Digest recommended a slew of movies to me. From the visceral Martyrs to the emotional suspense of I'm Not Scared, she batted 1.000 with them. 2009's Ink was among those recommended, but it got shuffled around on my Netflix queue to the point where I was surprised to see it turn up in my mailbox. I've got to manage that list a little more closely.

Because I should've watched this sooner.

Ink, written and directed by Jamin Winans, is a study in how to weave a powerful tale - a fable in this case - without the benefit of an enormous budget. It wrote its own rules. It was not afraid of its own imagination. And yes, although there are jump cuts, rapid-fire visual tricks, and echoes of The Matrix (among some other distant relatives), it's what was at the heart of the film that moved me. That's it. This film had serious heart.

I can't really provide a detailed synopsis for Ink. To do so would be to spoil certain story elements that you really need to experience for yourself. I can tell you this much: after a tender prelude that actually begins with a jarring car accident, we meet little Emma who is watched over - like everyone - by The Storytellers, people who live on an astral plane and who provide the good dreams people have. Their opposites, the creepy Incubi, cast shadows that bring the nightmares. A misshapen, monstrous man covered in chains and cloaks - who we find later is the titular character, Ink - arrives and kidnaps Emma's astral form from her bedroom. Despite the warrior efforts of Allel, Gabe, and Sarah - the Storytellers assigned to Emma - Ink makes off with the girl in an attempt to bring her to the leader of the Incubi. Ink wants to become one of them, and must help sacrifice the girl, but a small drum he uses to open "doors" to other places is broken, and he must take the long road with Emma and soon another Storyteller, the legendary Liev. Meanwhile, Allel, Gabe, Sarah, and the somewhat-insane blind Pathfinder named Jacob must formulate a plan to reunite Emma with her emotionally distant (and for what he believes is a good reason), somewhat douche-y father, John, the man from the short prologue.

With all of these strings in motion, the film heads toward a conclusion full of action and revelations, punctuated by a lesson. The journey is beautiful. Music swells and weaves during the thoughtful and the action-packed scenes. Visually, shots are set up to frame not just the disorientation of the adventure, but the characters and their outward emotions. Settings and even the effects just look different. Plus, what you find out at the end of the journey is worth every second it took to get there. I like stories that step outside of linear narrative to push and pull reality like taffy. More subtle than most, Ink brings it all home with a climax that's emotional and exciting, packing two punches instead of one. There's that lesson, and it rings true for all of us: what is important in your life and is your anger or guilt sending you on a downward spiral? What can you do to - as Jacob says - "stop the flow"?

Ink is not really horror, although the Incubi are creepy beyond creepy, but I honestly wanted to include this on my blog and spread the word of a low-budget independent film that was a labor of love and I'm sure not easy to distribute. But once it was out there, peer-to-peer sharing (normally illegal, but encouraged by the filmmakers) and word-of-mouth hurtled this little film that could to cult status. I've seen it classified as science fiction, but that genre doesn't fit it either. Fantasy works, and I like the description of "dark fable."

And, oh, the details. Little things I noticed here and there. Among other things, when you see this movie, look for these:

* How the Storytellers appear in our world, like flashes of fireflies or cameras. Sweet little detail.

* How the real world "repairs" itself during a fight scene between Ink and The Storytellers. I love how there's NO evidence that there are forces battling for Emma because the physical world "rights" itself when the astral world makes an impact.

* The straight creepy visual of the Incubi: screens in front of their faces that magnify and distort their expressions, coupled with visual "interference." They rarely speak, but do in hushed tones like a team of conceptual Iagos (woo! Othello reference!).

* Jacob's demonstration of how he listens to the rhythm of the world, and how he can influence it to set in motion something that is designed - no matter how brutal - to help reunite John with his comatose daughter. The music and the cause-and-effect "dance" make for a beautiful scene.

* A single tear running down a certain character's face towards the end, along with the revelation of what has been happening. It's sudden, and it makes sense.

Ink moved me, pure and simple. Many movies claim to be "feel-good" movies, but this one really earned that stripe. It may not be scary, and it may not be disturbing, and it may not be shocking, but once in a while, it's nice to come away from a movie feeling like you really want to smile. And then dream some more.

Watch it. Enjoy. I hope you get the same out of it as I did. Take a peek at the well-done trailer for a glimpse:

Oh! And a quick, unrelated note: I was graciously invited by Nate Yapp of and my good buddy B-sol of The Vault of Horror to contribute to the movie blog, Cinema Geek. I was honored and quickly accepted, so head over there to see articles by yours truly, as well as some of the other great writers from the horror blog community, about movies other than horror.

Until next time, my fellow survivors, sweet dreams...don't let the Incubi give you nightmares.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Walking Dead Premiere - Some Things Are Worth The Wait

"'s makin' me wait!" - Old Heinz ketchup commercial

I've been disappointed by hype before, or at best, just a little let down. Way in the back of my mind, I feared the same would happen with AMC's new original series, The Walking Dead. It finally - after months of waiting - premiered appropriately on October 31 to the well-oiled hype machine that is AMC. That station, I tell you, is riding a serious wave of successful original series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. They, like HBO, seem to set the bar very high in terms of quality, so I knew the series was in good hands. But that nagging fear remained in the back of my head: "What if it's just so-so...or worse, what if it sucks?"

I'm happy to say that not only did the premiere live up to my expectations, it exceeded them.

Now, I may or may not review each episode. I haven't decided yet. More likely, I'll bookend the season with reviews starting with this one. Needless to say, if was borrowing a page from Roger Ebert's book, I'd be giving this a huge thumbs-up.

I love infection horror, and that's evident in my blog. Hell, I prefaced watching this premiere with my annual Halloween viewing of 1978's Dawn of the Dead. More than that, I'm a huge fan of the comic book from Image Comics, created and written by Robert Kirkman, who also co-produced the series (Kirkman also writes a superhero series called Invincible that I hope makes it to the screen as well). Knowing he had a huge say in what went down, and knowing director/screenwriter extraordinaire Frank Darabont was in charge, put me more and more at ease.

Many of you have already seen it, and I'm not going to spoil things for the rest of you. Basically, the plot follows the book for the most part: Deputy Rick Grimes wakes up after a gunshot puts him in a coma to find that the world has really changed. There aren't any living people that he sees right away, but there are plenty of dead bodies...and some of them move. Rick leaves the hospital and returns home to find his wife and son gone. He meets Morgan and Duane, a father and son living in a house once occupied by Rick's neighbors, and they get him up to speed about the disease that has reanimated the dead. In a brilliant but tragic addition to the mythos, Morgan and Duane agonize over the sight of Morgan's wife, Duane's mother, returning day after day as a zombie. Rick intends to move on to Atlanta to find his family, hoping Morgan and Duane will join him later. He finds a horse and rides into the city, but finds nothing but hungry ex-people. Trapped in a tank, Rick hears someone calling him "dumbass" on the radio (if you read the book, you know who it is) as the episode comes to a close.

I skimmed over quite a bit of it, but really, if you're able to watch it, you need to see and hear the experience. The flies buzzing? Nice touch. There are scenes that are perfectly silent, and the confusion and disorientation is enough to drive you crazy because you have no music cues to warn you, or tell you how to feel. The disease spares no one. Yes, a little girl zombie falls in the first few minutes. I know the "politically correct" will be up in arms: "what kind of image is that to show our precious children?" Please. It's horror. What would you do, give it Twizzlers and positively reinforce it not to bite you? Same with the horse. That's in the comic as well. It's hard to see, but it portrays how a zombified world would be. The living dead don't care about cuteness. They're just hungry forces of nature. Another gory, but great, touch was the completely masticated woman lying in the hospital hallway. Darabont told so much story in Rick's post-awakening scene with hardly a word. The half-woman bicycle zombie is straight from the book, but Darabont adds so much pathos and emotion to each scene, it's like an enhanced version of an already-great work. I really hope the rest of the season holds up to this fantastic premiere.

I can't enough good things about it. I've seen overwhelmingly positive reviews, and mine stands as my own. I'm sure there are some who didn't like it, but that's life. Or undead life. So many puns, so little time.

Until later, my friends, try to be awake when the zombie apocalypse comes. And be sure to catch The Walking Dead on AMC, Sundays at 10 p.m.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween 2010 From The WGON Helicopter

Ah, October 31st, one of the most beloved times of the year for those of us who cherish a little spookiness in our daily mix. I have loved Halloween since I can remember, whether I'm completely dressed up and out at a party or just enjoying a nice autumn evening at home with my favorite horror movies. It's the pleasant crossroads of summer and fall, the weather easing into crisp air and brilliant, golden sun spreading across the vibrant colors of the season.

Yeah, I have always loved this time of year. In fact, please allow me to share some past Halloweens with you here through the magic of photos and interpretive dance, the latter you won't actually see:

My brother and I - circa 1974 - in our homemade Captain Marvel and Superman costumes. We rocked to Casper then.

We were the law. My college roommate Dan and I - as Sonny Crockett of Miami Vice - in 1987.

"Push the button, Frank." Your pilot as Dr. Clayton Forrester of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Slapped together pretty quick in 1992.

Ah, yes, youth.

I hope all of you readers and fellow horror bloggers have an insanely spooky, safe, and wild Halloween, full of laughter, sugar, and festivity. And now I shall sit down well before the LONG-anticipated series premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC and watch my traditional viewing of my favorite horror film of all time, 1978's Dawn of the Dead:

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Prince Of Darkness (1987) Big Ol' Tube Of Evil

Atmosphere. That's what really counts. You can throw buckets of blood and gore at me, but what can really give me that unsettled feeling is the right atmosphere. The way a film looks or feels, how the characters are made to look or how we perceive them as they react to what's happening to them. The environment or setting of a film can be a character all in itself.

There are lots of characters in John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness - some of them actually make it through to the end. But one of the best characters is the atmosphere - it's almost a living thing in itself: heavy, confining even in outdoor shots, a weight on the human characters as they move through the mystery of St. Godard's Church. I'll talk more about what I call a "heavy" atmosphere in a setting a little later, but first let's get into the movie itself:

When a priest dies before a big meeting with the higher-ups, an unnamed Priest (Donald Pleasance - the character is actually known as Father Loomis - Carpenter fans do the math) is called in to retrieve his personal effects, which include a small metal box containing a key. What the Priest discovers shakes him to his bones and leads him to call upon someone he considers a friend and rival, Professor Howard Birack (the great Victor Wong), who teaches doctorate-level physics theory.

That's right. Science and religion are tagging up in a cage match against...a tube of pure evil.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's fun to say "tube of pure evil." Go ahead, try it. See? But everything about that tube is no laughing matter. Even science man Birack is rattled after seeing the swirling goo. The Priest tells him it has been influencing the outside world for about a month, changing everything on a molecular level even as the sun and moon align in the daytime sky.

In the meantime, insects and worms are getting agitated and the homeless around St. Godard's begin acting strangely in unison, watching the visitors to the old church with robotic menace. Also, handsome young student Brian (Jameson Parker of Simon & Simon and his mustache) first innocently creeps on then legitimately courts fellow classmate Catherine (Lisa Blount). He's all googly-eyed over her, but she's mostly guarded.

Birack gathers his best students along with other specialized departments to investigate the entity and translate an ancient text that is in the room with it. They load equipment into the abandoned church despite not a single one of them knowing what the whole she-bang is about. Finally, the restless crew is summoned to the basement to witness the Big Ol' Tube of Evil for themselves. Their mission becomes clear: find out what the hell is in there and prove what it is.

A long night ahead of them, the students get to work. One of them is cleared to leave, but meets a throng of the homeless outside. After "admiring" a blasphemous pigeon-based sculpture, the unlucky guy is stabbed with half a bicycle by the lead homeless dude (Alice Cooper). The games have begun.

The students put the clues together and find out that the tube itself is millions of years old, had once been buried in the Middle East about 2,000 years before it ends up in the USA, and that the text in the old book is a literal warning from Jesus Christ Himself that it is indeed Satan inside the tube...and that the tube was buried by Satan's father, dubbed the Anti-God.

And Junior is waking up in preparation to bring his Daddy into our world. *shudder*

Things start happening, small at first. One student bangs her arm, which seems innocent at first, but that changes later. When she goes to take a nap, that's it for her, as we'll soon see. Another, Susan ("radiologist, glasses" becomes a running line of dialogue about her), falls victim to a stream of water that carries the evil one's essence. She becomes possessed, then breaks the neck of another student before moving on to infect the theologist translating the text. They, in turn, infect the very tall, very deep-voiced student Conor with juicy, devil-juiced-filled kisses. Susan and Lisa, the theologist, bring the canister to the sleeping, Blue Oyster Cult-bruised woman and pretty soon the essence of evil is flowing into her. Seriously, the symbol that the bruise on her arm forms looks exactly like BOC's infamous symbol.

Apparently, the Tube of Evil is a big fan.

Another student tries to leave around this time, citing that the whole thing is ridiculous. He glimpses the possessed Susan just before he's stabbed multiple times by a homeless woman. But don't fret, minor character fans, the guy they call Wyndham comes back with a strange, foreboding message:

Things break down after this, as Conor fights the possession long enough to cut his own throat with a piece of wooden banister. The homeless have barricaded everyone inside and the woman once known as Kelly has completely absorbed the essence and has become the living vessel for Satan. The dreams of a possible future - sent from 1999 via tachyon transmissions - show shaky, grainy, and eerily understated pictures of something emerging from the church. Everyone in the church experiences these dreams, but we only see a couple snippets of them. Just enough to creep us out.

During a huge skirmish, everyone is separated, with the Priest ending up in the boiler room, where a huge mirror sits on a wall. You see, Satan needs the mirror to bring the Anti-God into our dimension. Reaching into the huge mirror,,, it grabs hold of a horrible, grasping hand and begins to pull. No one is there to stop one except Catherine, who tackles Satan into the mirror just as the Priest smashes it with an axe. The image of Catherine on the other side, fading into a flickering blackness, is heartbreaking. Like someone disappearing into cold, dark water under broken ice.

The survivors emerge, and move on sadly with their lives. Brian has one last dream before gazing hopefully/fearfully at the bedroom mirror and reaching his hand out to...

And cut to black and end credits.

If this movie doesn't make you fear mirrors, I don't know what will.

John Carpenter made this film as the second part of what he called the "Apocalypse Trilogy," after 1982's remake of The Thing and before 1995's H. P. Lovecraft/Stephen King tribute In The Mouth Of Madness. In each movie, the world is threatened on a level experienced only by a small group of people. The rest of the world is pretty much clueless for two of the movies - they learn the hard way in the final one, but I'll discuss that one at another time.

The threat in Prince of Darkness begins on a conceptual level, and I find that fascinating. Sure, big, blatant threats can be fun from the masked killers of Friday the 13th and Carpenter's own Halloween to the monstrous threat in Cloverfield. But the hidden dangers, the ones that lurk behind our own perceptions of reality...that's where real terror lies. You don't see it coming. You feel it, but it's one of those "corner of your eye" nudges until it's too late. Things in this movie happen not only on an outwardly physical level, but as Professor Birack states, "on the subatomic level" as well. The Priest has a similar quote when he said Satan hides "between the atoms," which is how he sneaks his slimy little way into peoples' hearts. The world around the characters is changing: ants and worms spaz out and climb windows, the homeless (or possibly only those homeless with mental illness) act in unison to carry out the will of something unseen, moon and sun align in space, the sky and the air appear...heavier.

In one subtle scene...blink and you miss it...main character Brian discusses the weight of thing as they have been occurring. He's messing around with a playing card, as he loves card tricks and it's a neat character quirk that he has to do that to busy his hands (maybe he's an ex-smoker). As he makes his point, he performs a pass to make the card look like it's disappearing. Simple sleight of hand, really. Only...the card actually disappears. No one has time to comment on it as events then spiral towards the conclusion. But I thought it was a well-timed, tiny little aside that shows the world is literally sinking into something unexplainable and not quite so obvious.

Here is the scene of which I speak, with the first few minutes setting it up:

Subtle and spooky.

And yes, because it is my blog, I will compare the heavy feeling to - I know it's getting old, but bear with me - Grant Morrison's Final Crisis from DC Comics. When evil Darkseid finally manifests himself in regular reality, it tears a hole in everything we know. Earth is pulled into a black hole singularity created by Darkseid's fall from The Fourth World's reality. In Prince of Darkness, I think something similar would happen. If the Anti-God forces its way into our reality, it will rip and tear the universe at the point where it happens: our world. Wrap your mind around that concept as you fall asleep. You're welcome.

Carpenter was always a master of atmosphere. I mean, look at Halloween, with its minimal blood spray yet sheer terror. The Thing is a study in claustrophobia and paranoia. Even Big Trouble In Little China provides an air of high adventure and magic that happens just beyond the streets and buildings of Chinatown. Prince of Darkness is mostly lesser-known than those three films. Horror fans and aficionados are very familiar with it, and most do agree that it is underrated and among the most chilling horror films. It is certainly among my favorites from the 80's or any decade, for that matter. This Halloween, do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven't before. It's a great popcorn chiller, nostalgic for those of us who grew up in the 80's and saw it then, and still has weight for those just now discovering it.

Now, here, enjoy the final dream sequence/message from the future:

Oh, and here's what the voice says: "This is not a dream...not a dream. We are using your brain's electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness, but this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation."


OK, I'm off to deal with zombies. They're not a threat on the conceptual level. They're just undead and hungry. Until next time, fellow survivors...

Friday, October 15, 2010

In The Helicopter Bay 10-15-10

* So not only am I flying the WGON helicopter, trying to herd what's left of civilization into acceptable shelters, I'm finding a great deal of my time taken up by being a school librarian. There are going to be times where my posts are pretty sparse, but I will continue to throw my thoughts at the Inter-webs wall and see what sticks. Hopefully, I'll entertain and titillate, even if on some occasions, I'm just talking to myself.

* An interesting tidbit: during one of my assignments, I asked the middle school students to look up their favorite movie on the Internet Movie Database and jot notes down to answer general questions I provided (note-taking is part of the library curriculum...sometimes you have to be sneaky to get them to work on assignments). The movie that just about half of them listed as their favorite? The first Paranormal Activity movie, fully released last year. Many of them cited that it...and I quote..."almost made me pee my pants." Ah, youth.

* Anyone else excited to see what the film Monsters has to offer?

* It's no secret, I love t-shirts. Be sure to check out the great designs they have over at Fright Rags. Recently, they had a shirt created for Breast Cancer Awareness, but the link doesn't seem to work at this time. Plus, Crazy Dog t-shirts is having a sale, $5 off Halloween shirts on their site with the code HALLO5 through Halloween - there's even a t-shirt I didn't even know existed featuring the WGON logo from the original Dawn of the Dead, so you know I'll be checking that one out.

* This weekend, I'll be catching up on some movies to review. Not sure how good they'll be, but hey, that's part of the fun.

...And that's all for now, my friends. Keep hiding from the undead and shine a flashlight up into the night sky. I'll get to you momentarily.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Suspiria (1977) Creepiness Never Looked So Good

I've always found that each country that contributes a substantial amount of horror films to the waiting community has its own identity. It's not always easy to identify it, but Japanese horror films are different from French horror films, which are different from Spanish horror films. As far as I'm concerned, diversity is an enormous strength. There's a little for everyone. Italian horror films have long been entrenched in the upper echelon of filmmaking. Often referred to as giallo, Italian horror films combine elements of - among other genres - horror, mystery, and visual artistry. Arguably, the reigning king of giallo has to be Dario Argento.

Argento's been making movies for a long time, and when he isn't making his own, he helps with others. He's often credited as playing a huge part in the making and European distribution of the original Dawn of the Dead, even helping add the distinctive music with the band Goblin. He's made some of the most influential films in the horror and mystery world, and continues to inspire directors, actors, and filmgoers.

Suspiria is considered Argento's greatest film (although many will have their own preference) and is a bizarre, twisty, gorgeous mystery with healthy doses of occult shenanigans and beautiful shots that lend to an ethereal experience. It's not full of savvy teens cracking wise and throwing out ironic quips. Instead, it's more of a dream-like walk through an old building lit up with primary colors. Oh, yeah, and with unsettling, wildly creepy music blaring at you from all sides.

It goes a little like this:

Young American dancer Suzy (Jessica Harper) lands in Austria one rainy, windy night, arriving at a prestigious dance school just in time to see a frantic student named Pat argue with someone, then run away through the woods. Suzy heads to town when she isn't allowed in, and Pat heads to her apartment where she is stalked and brutally murdered - emphasis on "brutally" - by an unseen attacker who seems to be able to operate at great heights. Maybe even fly. All Pat ever really sees are the eyes.

Suzy returns and meets the staff, plus the makeshift roommate she'll have until her room is ready at the school. After staying with her new friend Olga, Suzy tells the staff she'd rather stay with her, but they insist she move into the dorm. Suzy has a weird moment with the school's cook, causing her to pass out. When she awakens, all her stuff has been moved into her new room whether she likes it or not. Regardless, Suzy becomes fast friends with the girl in the room next door, Sarah.

In a strange turn, maggots begin to rain from the ceiling, thanks to some rotting food in the attic. Forced to sleep in the gym (shades of Revenge of the Nerds), Sarah is put off by the strange snore of the school's director, who isn't supposed to be present. All we see is a silhouette behind one of the shades, presented in stark red light.

Sarah is convinced that the staff slips away to some secret room when they claim to leave every night. Suzy is perpetually confused by the weirdness of the school, but is probably the only one who would listen to Sarah.

Oddly, the next morning, the blind piano player for the dance classes is abruptly fired when it's claimed his seeing-eye dog attacked Madame Blanc's (Joan Bennett) young, weirdo nephew. For you comic book fans, the nephew Albert (Jacopo Mariani) reminded me of DC Comics' boy-witch Klarion:

I don't know. He could've been the same kid. Crazy little witch boys. The pianist threatens to expose the school for what it is and leaves to have a beer at some Oktoberfest-ish bar. Crossing an empty plaza at night, he is spooked by strange sounds before having his throat ripped out by his trusty dog.

Turns out Sarah and Pat were friends and they took notes on the strange behavior of the school's stafff. Suzy recalls Pat saying the words "secret" and "iris" that first night, but has no idea what they mean. Sarah can't find her notes, but Suzy, still feeling out of sorts since that fainting spell, passes out in her bed. An intruder enters the room, and then gives chase to Sarah, who ends up in a room full of razor wire before having her throat slit by the attacker. That room - coils of razor wire everywhere - has always stuck in my memory.

Suzy meets up with Sarah's psychologist, Dr. Mandel (the ever-present Udo Kier, looking really young here), to get some clues as to where Sarah may have gone. Mandel and his friend Professor Milius reveal that the school may have ties to a very old witch, who apparently founded it.

Counting the footsteps she and Sarah would hear every night, Suzy finds herself in the headmaster's office, a strikingly painted room that sported flowers everywhere. Including painted irises.

Suzy finds a secret area of the school, and discovers that the entire staff is there, plotting as a coven to have her murdered since she's finding out too much. She also meets the original woman who founded the school, and I think it's safe to say she's rather...supernaturally based. She appears only as an outline of a person sitting on a bed and threatening Suzy. The woman, Helena Markos, even reanimates Sarah's corpse, who comes charging in for a reunion with Suzy.

A bloody, eyeless, knife-y reuinon.

Suzy reacts by stabbing the outline of Helena with the glass feather of a piece of peacock artwork present in the room in a bit of a reference to an earlier Argento film, The Bird With Crystal Plumage. Helena dies loudly, causing tremors to rumble through the school and the rest of the coven to writhe in pain as Suzy escapes into the night.

Suspiria ends there, but the story continues as Argento laid it all out as a trilogy, with the films Inferno and Mother of Tears following in 1980 and 2007, respectively.

While the dubbing is sometimes...interesting, and some may find the pacing to drag some, Suspiria is a beautiful film. I mentioned those primary colors. You see stark renditions of red and blue, from the blood to the lighting that are both sharp and dream-like. After some reading around, I found out that Argento used "imbibition Technicolor prints," which was a technique used in films like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind that causes the primary colors to appear more striking than usual. This, combined with the angles that Argento used, created something like artwork. Argento used space like a stage, with the actors sent perfectly across each scene as if they were part of a painting.

Now, the soundtrack is crazy. Goblin, who first captured my heart in Dawn of the Dead, performs a stranger bit of music here. Yet, it seemed as though the copy of the movie I got had problems with the audio channels as I kept having to fuss with the volume to either soften the music or turn up the dialogue. Don't let that stop you from seeing this. Suspiria is considered one of horror's classics, and while everyone has different tastes, one should see it at least for the experience.

Well, that's all for now, fellow survivors. Until next time, be careful out there, and be wary of weird dance academies.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Sentinel (1977) Apartment For Rent, Cheap, Creepy Priest Included

Apartment hunting is never easy. You want just the right amenities, the right utility plans, perfect space, tolerable gets complicated, to say the least. If the apartment you choose just happens to sit over the mouth of Hell, then you might a few more problems than just a few cockroaches or neighbors who loudly air out their problems at four in the morning. That sulfur smell is only the beginning of your grievances.

1977's The Sentinel is a film about New York apartment living, gates of Hell, oddball neighbors, pencil-thin mustaches, and unwavering fate. Directed by Michael Winner (Death Wish), The Sentinel sports an all-star cast featuring Chris Sarandon, Burgess Meredith, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Ava Gardner, Jose Ferrer, Sylvia Miles, and Eli Wallach. There are even small (some non-speaking) parts for future stars such as Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D'Angelo, and Tom Berenger. Quite the cast, really.

Alison (Christina Raines) is a very successful model with more than a few problems on the emotional spectrum. As a flashback tells us, as a teenager, she once barged in on her depraved father having a cake-filled tryst with two women of ill repute. She had tried to commit suicide then, and had more problems later in life. She wants a place of her own so she can have her own down time, even away from loyal lawyer boyfriend, Michael (Sarandon). A meeting with a realtor (Gardner) uncovers a nice old apartment in Brooklyn with an insanely cheap rent, fully furnished rooms, and a creepy old priest, Father Halloran (Carradine), who spends his days staring out of the window.

Father Halloran's simple hobby notwithstanding, Alison simply can't pass up the opportunity, especially when the realtor lowers the rent even more. It's like Alison was meant to rent the apartment. She moves in and before long, starts to feel at home in the huge apartment. I mean, this thing is cavernous.

While her boyfriend uses his less-than-reputable resources to find out more about the place she's rented, and about this mysterious Father Halloran, Alison begins to meet her new neighbors. Charming old codger Charles Chazen (Meredith) introduces himself and his pet kitty and birdy, even bringing her a picture of himself to spruce up the apartment. He seems like a decent guy, maybe a little on the goofy side, and Alison enjoys his visit.

Michael finds out more about the place, and about Father Halloran, and it doesn't bode well for Alison. It's no spoiler to say that Father Halloran isn't the first person a mysterious church brotherhood has tapped to be a "sentinel," and he won't be the last. Alison's suicide attempts have pushed her to the top of the candidate list. We also find out that Michael's a bit of a slippery character himself, but he denies any wrongdoing. Admittedly, he does seem to want the best for Alison, so maybe he's a victim of finger-pointing for an accident that happened years before (as constantly brought up by Wallach and Walken's police characters).

Things get weirder for Alison. One visit to loopy couple Gerde (Miles) and Sandra (D'Angelo) makes Alison a little...shall we say, uncomfortable. Gerde is the very definition of an aged "cougar" and Sandra enjoys...I'll just mention that she's a big fan of her own body and leave it at that. Alison slips away from that scene, but gets to meet more of the tenants at a birthday party for Charles' cat. Alison ends up having a wonderful time (who wouldn't? - there's cake and a cat with a party hat) before being spooked by noises in the apartment above her, where no one should be. She tells Miss Logan, the realtor, about it and Miss Logan drops a bomb about the population of said apartment building. Now Alison, and those around her, start to doubt the brightness of her porch lights, if you catch my drift.

At one point, Alison sees an apparition of her dead, freaky father and attacks it for probably the goriest part of the movie. With unexplained pains in her head, a strange connection to a dead private eye (a friend of Michael's in a subplot I won't spoil), and an increasingly weird home life (seeing all of a book's English text in Latin), things aren't going well for the model. Michael takes it upon himself to investigate the building and get to the bottom of this Father Halloran/crazy neighbor/church conspiracy thingy.

Finding a blocked-off area on the wall in the lobby, Michael breaks it apart to reveal a warning that ends with the ominous, "Abandon hope, ye who enter here." Right about this time, Father Halloran makes an appearance, and tells Michael that the building sits on a portal to Hell. Michael still demands answers and follows Father Halloran back to his apartment, where he attacks the old man out of frustration before being bludgeoned by an unseen assailant.

The great John Carradine.

Alison arrives at the building just in time for Hell's welcoming party to arrive. Charles leads them all into enticing Alison to kill herself so that she doesn't become the next Sentinel. Hordes of demons appear - controversially played by extras with real-life disfigurements and amputations - and corner Alison in Halloran's room. Just as she is about to go through with it, Father Halloran and Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy), an "advance scout" of sorts sent to aid Alison's "transformation," arrive to rescue Alison. For me, the creepiest part of the entire movie was watching the hordes of Hell retreat slowly and vanish into the shadows. Really great editing here.

Alison then takes Halloran's place in the chair at the window and later, while Miss Logan presents a refurbished apartment to a new couple (one of which was played by Tom Berenger), we see that Alison has fully accepted the position of Sentinel, nun's outfit and milky eyes included.

The Sentinel is a great piece of 70's atmospheric spookiness. Not only is it a horror film, but it doubles as a mystery as the pieces are put together to form the hows and the whys. There is more to each character than you think, and by the end, you discover more about them. It was also quite fun to play "Which Star With A Bit Part Will Be An Even Bigger Star?" with all the appearances by those I mentioned earlier. The movie builds with an even tension, so audiences with short attention spans (the kind Hollywood loves now) might get bored after a while, but it's worth the wait. The climactic sequence is one of the most visually striking and disturbing scenes you may see, and not for gore or anything spectacular. The use of shadow and the lack of special effects is combined for a jarring effect. Burgess Meredith is as charming as ever - even when he's pure evil - but the one problem I had with the movie was Christina Raines as Alison. Her acting came off as wooden and forced in many scenes, although she looked the part of a successful 70's model.

Love this old VHS cover - reminds me of working in a video store during the 80's.

You can do a lot worse than watching The Sentinel on a dark, preferably stormy, night. It's good, old-school spooky with touches of drive-in depravity that are doled out in just the right doses to make you squirm.

Plus you get to see a cat in a birthday hat.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977-ish) Wait, What?

I almost didn't have any words for this movie. At first glance, it appears to be a knowing-wink kind of thing. You know, tongue-in-cheek and full of wry, subtle in-jokes. I mean, a film about a bed. An evil bed that eats people. Why didn't I think of that? Then, I experienced it. And I wished to all that is holy that the trusty crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 had been there to hold my hand through the syrupy, surreal morsel of oddball that is Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

At least we got one of those nifty title cards.

A film that - like its narrator - sat in limbo for about 25 years before its official release in 2003, Death Bed is a strange neo-art-horror-camp-comedy-experimental piece written, produced, directed, and eventually forgotten by George Barry. It gained cult status through pirated videotapes and mentions by comedian Patton Oswalt, the "fame" seemingly a surprise to Barry himself. But, hey, I'd be pleasantly surprised, too, if a film I made then forgot about gained notoriety.

And oh, what a film.

Let me tell you a little something about how it all goes down. The epilogue, or "breakfast" (seriously, a graphic tells us just that), shows an amorous couple sneaking into the tomb-like room where the bed resides. Where the bed is sleeping...and snoring. The ghost of an emo artist is trapped behind one of his own drawings of the bed, and he conveniently narrates the procedures for us. The couple get busy on the bed, which sneaks a bite of their apple, drinks their wine, and...seriously...polishes off their bucket of fried chicken. Then, it moves on to the couple, pulling them into its oddly green pool of digestive juices. We know it's eating them because we hear eating noises. Funny how everything it eats sounds like it's made of apples.

The bed in question.

The narrator fills us in on his relationship with the bed while it dreams of eating people in a city, as told by the ol' spinning newspaper. Several years pass, and a trio of ladies arrive at the house to check it out for a lawyer friend of one of the women. I would say that one, Diane, is headstrong, that another, Sharon, is her good friend, and the last, Suzan, is mousy and insecure. I would say that, but character development and acting aren't around to make it easier. Suzan is left alone to get some rest, but falls victim to the bed. The others discover her missing, and the bed reacts harshly to the presence of Sharon. When the ladies leave to look for their friend, the bed pulls in Suzan's suitcase and yes...wait for it...drinks the Pepto-Bismol.

Yes. The bed that drinks Pepto-Bismol.

A lot of the bed's history is revealed, especially that it had multiple owners, including a gangster (whose gun sounds like it's firing, but looks like a toy), a "sexual therpist" whose orgy kept the bed full for a long time, and the artist himself, who had consumption, which he theorizes is why the bed "rejected" him. The bed's origin ties in with why it is so affected by Sharon. Seems a woman was seduced by a demon who created the bed, but died. In his strange grief, the demon cried blood and the tears possessed the bed. Sharon has eyes just like that woman, who lies in perfect shape in her grave on the property. Yep, you heard all that right.

One of the random objects the bed likes to snack upon.

When Sharon goes for help, Diane decides on a nap. After a bizarre dream, she tries to get up, but is pulled in by the bed. She is able to escape, but her bloody legs are useless. And thus begins one of the longest several minutes you will ever experience. Diane drags herself to the door, and we are there to witness every last second of it. A sloth on Robitussin would've lapped this scene twice before it ended. The bed pulls a "haha, psych" and pulls Diane back with a well-tossed bedsheet. Sharon returns just in time to see this happen, and her mind goes bye-bye.

Longest. Crawl. Ever.

Through this whole movie, 70's singer Leo Sayer Sharon's unnamed brother searches for and eventually finds Sharon curled up in the bed's room, afraid to leave and probably hearing calliope music in her mushy mind. The bed taunts them with strange sounds and random eyeballs, leading the brother to attempt stabbing the bed. In my favorite scene of this thing, the bed spits the knife out and consumes everything but the bones of the guy's hands. When he settles down to stare at his hands, his reaction is...well...underwhelming. Almost as if he were to say, "Huh. Skeleton hands."

"That's strange. Skeleton hands. Hm. Did I leave the stove on?"

That was the best. Well, moving on, the artist had said when the original demon sleeps every ten years, the bed will be vulnerable. He instructs Sharon to build a ritual circle to transport the bed to another circle, which will also awaken the bed's original "mother." Sharon must die for this to happen, though. The re-animated woman then "couples" with the handless brother to close the circle and the bed is destroyed.

What a ride. Like trying to race a Hoveround on its lowest setting through mud. The pacing of this movie only moved due the advancement of time, not any plot or acting. Every second of that slow time that passed, I could hear Crow T. Robot in my head, lampooning each scene. It was the only way I could maintain my sanity, and there's very little of that left. Still, the film has just enough charm to become something of a more recent Rocky Horror Picture Show. Somebody out there, please make that happen.

Until next time, folks, sleep comfortably on your beds tonight and have as much fried chicken, wine, and apples you want.