Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Scares -- Er, Year

It's the turn of another year, and apparently another decade or whatnot. You know, the years really just blend together for me. When the zombies started walking, every day's the same.

On March 5 of 2009, and after a lot of me saying "I should really do this," I started this blog in an effort to bring my voice - hopefully, a unique one - to the horror blogosphere. In that time, I've been welcomed by a group of new friends, more experienced and truly excellent bloggers who have made me feel like I belong. For that, I will be eternally grateful, so thanks to all of you.

Also, thanks to all of you who take the time to read and sometimes comment. I really hope you enjoy what I'm jotting down about the world of horror from my viewpoint, and I'll just keep trying to make it better.

That said, I really need to be more prolific. So, in 2010, more movies, more comics, more horror everything, even if it's just a quick thought. Hoping also to hit up more conventions and events, see what I can do to be a part of more things.

Speaking of movies, I'd be remiss if I didn't pick out what I believed to be the most affecting horror movie I watched in 2009. Now, it didn't have to be a 2009 film, per se, just one I'd seen in the past year. And the choice I have may be obvious.

The horror movie that hammered my soul more than any other this past year was the French film Martyrs. If you want to know my deeper thoughts about this amazing film, the post of my review is right this way. I saw it in November, and I'm still affected by what I saw. It reached a visceral nerve inside me and I'm still thinking about this long after the credits. So, cheers to you, Martyrs, for reaffirming my faith in foreign horror.

As I raise a drink well inside the safety zone compound, I wish you all a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2010.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Torchwood: Countrycide - Wait, What? Is That Horror?

OK, wait a minute. This is a horror blog, right? I mean, in it, I like to discuss horror films, books, shows, comics...well, maybe I should include ideas as well. Something doesn't have to be classified in the horror genre for it to contain horror ideas. I never want to constrain myself by only taking one angle on a subject.

Take, for example, the episode of Torchwood called "Countrycide." First, a bit of a primer on this British show. Torchwood is a spin-off of the wildly successful modern reboot of Doctor Who. In fact, take a look at the spelling of Torchwood. Yep, it's an anagram for Doctor Who. There's a whole history in the parent show about why Torchwood was formed: something had to be in place in case the Doctor was not present to save the world. It had a few incarnations before the one the spin-off is based upon, mostly militaristic. This version is much smaller and only consists of five people out to prepare the world to defend itself against alien and supernatural threats. Oh, and it's a lot more...ahem..."sophisticated" than its parent show. There is frequent cursing, sex, violence, all sorts of good stuff.

The group consists of leader Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a former Time Agent who cannot be killed and is a bit of a smooth talker. There's former policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), tough and sensitive, trying to balance her personal life with the wildly insane life of Torchwood. Also in the group is the compassionate main tech Toshiko Sato a.k.a. Tosh (Naoko Mori), obedient and quiet assistant Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), and intensely forward medic Owen Harper (Burn Gorman). Those are your players, now let's set the stage for "Countrycide."

The episode begins in such a way, that it reminded me of the French horror thriller Ils that I recently reviewed. A woman drives down a lonely stretch of English country road when she comes across what appears to be a body. Upon investigation, she sees that it's a dummy. Someone's messing with her, that much is clear. She's hearing sounds, seeing shapes. Suddenly, the tires on her car are flat. When she realizes she's really, really in trouble, that's when a hooded figure attacks her.

The Torchwood team is called in to investigate not only that disappearance, but of 16 others in the same area. They're used to dealing with the strange and unusual, and this appears to be right up their alley. It could be UFO's, it could be ghosts, werewolves, who knows? Mysteries are their thing. Like the Scooby Gang, but with more sexual tension.

After setting up camp, they find a mutilated corpse in the woods. It's been skinned and much of the meat taken off its bones. They start to realize the gravity of what they might be dealing with, but don't have long to think about it when someone steals their swanky Range Rover as they look on. Fortunately for them, they're Torchwood, and handy gadgets are handy just for pickles such as this. Ianto tracks the Range Rover into a nearby town which appears to be a little more quiet than it should be.

It's a spooky little village, and it seems to be deserted. Not a single soul to be seen. As the team splits up, Jack, Owen, and Gwen surprise a young man named Kieran, who fires upon them with a shotgun and wounds Gwen. As Gwen is tended to by Owen - furthering their smoldering tension - Kieran tells his story, that he thought "they" had come back for him. He claims "they" aren't human, and he's in utter shock, only wanting to get away right now.

During this time, Ianto and Tosh have been taken hostage, but by whom, we have no idea. They're locked up in some kind of weird room with chains, hooks, and strange fluids. They also find remnants of other people: shoes, clothes. Upon opening the fridge they discover,'s another horror staple: it becomes clear to them that they are now food. There is a supply of meat inside the fridge, and it isn't a rack of lamb.

In the pub, someone or something tries to break in even as Jack and the others fire on it. Whatever it is, it takes the kid Kieran and leaves. They still have no idea what they're dealing with, despite Jack's vast knowledge of aliens and unknown.

Back in the meat locker, a scared lady opens the door and tells Ianto and Tosh she's there to help. She warns them of a "harvest" and says she's been sent to "collect" them, but wishes she could help them. Every ten years, apparently, the harvest "takes" them. She holds them at gunpoint and insists they come with her.

Cut to the pub (remember, this is a TV show, lots of cuts and such) and Jack is seeing this place isn't all it seems to be. There are jars of icky things and hey, a blood trail. It must be the one of the attackers, and it sure is. Jack interrogates him, but the guy is borderline insane and laughs in his face. But Jack, being somewhat immortal, has been around the block once or twice when it comes torture and amps it up a bit.

Gwen and Owen run into the woods and eventually meet a policeman, much to their relief. They insist on the police's help, that the village is in grave danger. Ianto and Tosh are taken to a horrible house, full of hanging plastic, blood splatters, and "that stench." The woman really didn't want to help them, obviously. It was just a spot of fun. They meet their attackers, the ones who have apparently cannibalized the village. They have met their attackers, and they are other words, they are all too human. Not aliens. Not demons or ghosts. Humans. And they love what they do. "See, the meat has to be tenderized first." But awesome Ianto headbutts the leader and Tosh gets away into the woods.

Tosh, handcuffed, is found by the leader, who gleefully bullies her until Owen and Gwen show up with the policeman. Finally, Tosh is saved! Well...until the policeman reveals his true colors and forces Owen and Gwen to disarm. Oh, great. Everyone's in on it.

It looks like curtains for our brave team. Back at the charnel house, the leader explains that the meat must be bled out, "like veal." He really enjoys this way too much as he holds a cleaver to Ianto's neck. A growing tremor distracts the band of bitey people. Seems they forgot about good ol' Jack, who storms in and wounds each one in a rage. Jack wants to kill them all. "People like this don't deserve a warning!" he exclaims, but Gwen wants to know. The same curiosity that got her the job with Torchwood compels her to know why.

She interrogates the leader by asking him that one question: why? The leader is playfully evil, toying with her, knowing he can scare her with words. And he does. He agrees to tell her why he does it, with a tear rolling from one eye, only if he can whisper it:

"Because it made me happy."

The expression on Gwen's face as he tells her that and as he's dragged away by Jack says it all. Utter and complete horror. See, horror? That a person could perpetrate this kind of evil on others, and that it had nothing to do with aliens or the supernatural, echoes in her head. And it changes her.

Torchwood is not a horror show, that's very true. It's sci-fi spun off from sci-fi. But that's not to say that you can't mix a little horror with your sci-fi. At the heart of this episode was a classic torture horror story about cannibals, a vanished village, and the shriveled heart of evil. No gadgets, no lasers, and no Doctor to bail them out.

I like it when I find horror in the least expected places.

Check out the video of the end of the episode to see some of those horror elements, a heroic save by Jack, and the chilling words from the leader of the cannibals.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frontier(s) (2007) + The Word Of The Moment: "Primal"

Remember in my review of Ils, I spoke of fear? It had crossed my mind that there would be a certain segment of the viewing population - not a large one, really - that would puff up their chests and proclaim that they would "kick ass" if placed in a situation that the protagonists of that movie faced. Everyone knows or has met someone like that. The hero of their own mind, they've probably only ever seen fear in movies or news reports from the comfort of their own home.

I'm digressing a bit, but please bear with me. What I'm getting at is that I consider fear to be a "primal" emotion. There are certain emotions hardwired into us from the dawn of time: fear, desire, pleasure, anger, and a few more. How do we often express these emotions? By eloquently stating a monologue? No, it's usually through the most primal of expressions: yelling, screaming, panting, laughing, grunting. Sounds, not words.

I wanted to bring up the "primal" angle because the movie I just experienced, Frontière(s) (aka Frontier(s)), brought up the primal elements in nearly every part of the film. The film, which definitely falls under the horror subgenre "French extreme," is from 2007, and is written and directed by Xavier Gens. It stars a very fine cast headed by Karina Testa as Yasmine or Yaz. Hm, I'm seeing a trend here: strong female leads in the three French extreme films I've viewed, both in acting and in the characterization. This is a good trend, as the actresses I've seen warrant worldwide attention for their skills and a strong female lead is always welcome.

Let's dive into the recap: right away, we're introduced to a France that is falling apart. An extreme right-wing government has been voted in and protests are plunging the streets of Paris into chaos. Fresh off a robbery, we meet two groups of young folks trying to escape. Yasmine helps her brother, Sami, to a safehouse to nurse his worsening bullet wounds. Tom, Farid, and Alex are the others, and they're the ones with the money and the police tail. Eventually, they all meet up, but Sami's in bad shape. Yaz wants to get him to a hospital, but the others think he may rat on them. Tom and Farid take a separate car into the country on their way out of France, and to wait for the others. Yaz and Alex, whose baby she's pregnant with although they have broken up, take Sami to the hospital. There, Sami dies, and Yaz and Alex barely escape the police who show up there. In this opening sequence, we're privy to the personalities of our wild bunch. Yaz is emotional but headstrong. Alex is a hothead, but his toughness is a facade for regret. Tom is a douche, and Farid is quiet and almost innocent.

Speaking of the douche and the innocent, they stumble upon a very, very rural motel to rest up for the night and wait for the others. Tom's digging it because the two women they meet there, Gilberte and Klaudia, are more than receptive to his douchey pick-up lines. A fearsome specimen, Goetz, shows up to encourage the love motel shenanigans. Goetz, by the way, is played by Samuel Le Bihan, who played Grégorie de Fronsac in one of my absolute favorite movies, Les pacte des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf). To say these were two different roles is an understatement.

Angry butchers: a horror staple.

Everything seems great for Tom and maybe Farid. Tom's loving the wanton sex the women offer, while Farid is less than enthused, claiming he has a "girlfriend." The motel even offers a home-cooked meal of...uh...something or another fried up in pork fat. As a bonus, "Mom" sits nearby to have her meal spoonfed, even if some of it pops out of her throat tube. When Farid refuses to eat the pork fat because of his religion - he's Muslim - the family seems not just offended, but angry.

While Tom and Farid discuss what just happened, a new guy bursts onto the scene, this time brother Karl. He's pissed that Tom insulted the women and threatens the guys, who fight back. They don't get far before Tom is floored by a blunt object to the face and back, and Farid is held at gunpoint by Karl. But, you gotta hand it to these guys, they do fight back in the face of fear. They don't "kick ass," but they do take the opportunity when it arises. Stabbing Karl with scissors, Farid snags Tom and they escape. For a while anyway. Goetz, in pursuit, runs them off the road and down a mineshaft before leaving them for dead.

The pair is still alive, though, and cut into the nearby mine for what I thought was such an intense part, I could barely take it. See, one of my greatest fears is dying alone in a tight tunnel, stuck and unable to move in either direction. Just add water, and my fear intensifies. Would I kick the tunnel's ass? Probably not. Farid panics and actually grows a pair (something Tom told him to do earlier in the movie) while Tom weeps for his mother, which I though was a nice, sad touch. Tom does make it through the tunnel, where he meets the rotund Hans, who brains him and drags him out. Farid scrambles back the way he came, where he must face some weird scraping, scuttling noises. Poor Farid, though. He makes through so much before getting trapped in a steam room-type gimmick and is basically melted to death by Hans. He was a tough little bastard, though.

Alex and Yaz show up at the motel, but are given the runaround. Their friends, they're told, are at the nearby hostel (uh-oh, that word is never good in a horror movie). Alex and Yaz arrive and meet doll-like, hunched Eva. While Alex heads for the bathroom, which is across the courtyard of the old mine facility, Yaz meets "Father," a former Nazi who settled in the French countryside. I mean, you know something is off when Yaz scans the dining room and sees old pictures of Nazi banners and a Nazi officer (presumably Von Geisler, the Father). Alex hears sounds and explores the facility, where he finds Tom, who is by Jove still alive. He's been meathooked upside down and implores Alex to run. Alex, realizing the gravity of their situation, rushes in to get Alex, but the two are subdued by the Von Geisler family. Seems the old man in his infinite, hateful, and deranged mind, wants to recreate a master race and despite her "impurity," wants Yaz to be the brood mare for his son Karl.

Alex and Yaz are chained up in the hog pen, but Alex manages to free Yaz by straining enough on the rusty chain. Yaz digs and digs in the hog poop and dirt to create enough room to crawl under the iron gate, but pauses to admit to she still loves the father of her child. As much of a bravado-spouting tough guy Alex acted like in the beginning, he really was a caring, decent guy under it all. Yaz runs and runs, until she meets a guy driving along the country road. Yay, she's rescued!

No. It's Goetz.

Yaz is returned to the compound, where she's put right back in the pen with Alex. While she was gone, Von Geisler severed Alex's Achilles tendons so he wouldn't escape. Von Geisler wants Yaz readied to be betrothed, and kills Alex in cold blood. When Yaz awakens, she's in Eva's room. Eva befriends her and, while she cuts her hair (in a scene very reminiscent of Martyrs - removal of the hair to demoralize - like Samson lost his strength when his hair was cut), tells her tragic tale. She's not related to the other nutjobs and after having been kidnapped, has been a similar brood mare to Hans. Their children are not "perfect," so they are the ones scratching around in the mine.

At the "wedding dinner," Von Geisler places Karl in charge of the family and proclaims he and Yaz "married." Here, the tension between family members is palpable. Goetz thinks he should be in charge, and Von Geisler makes it known he is only proud of Karl. Yaz is in a hopeless situation, but the look on her face as she remains defiant is encouraging. She hasn't given up yet. Quicker than The Flash, Yaz holds Von Geisler at knifepoint and demands to leave. The family starts to fall apart pretty quickly. Von Geisler wants all guns down, but Hans wants to prove himself and says he will kill both to stop Yaz. He makes good on his word, firing, but only killing his father. Karl fatally shoots Hans as Yaz makes her escape.

Into the mine Yaz goes, first dealing with Goetz in a particularly nasty manner. You see the implement of his demise right there, and you know it's going to be used. It's a little like Chekov's Gun in theater: you introduce something like that, you best use it before the play's over. Karl traps her in an elevator and it all seems lost. But you can't help but notice what happens when Karl says "au revoir." I actually shouted out "ha!" when it happened. Karl won't be getting up from that head wound.

Now this is someone ready to kick some ass.

Eva tries to help Yaz escape, but the last two Von Geislers, Gilberte and Klaudia show up like a couple of Tarentino femme fatales, firing a hail of bullets at Yaz, who is also armed. Yaz fires on a gas tank and boom goes the...uh, gas tank. No dynamite, but just as effective. In a final battle with Gilberte, Yaz reverts to true primal brutality and uses her teeth as a final, desperate way to win the fight. And as she finally gets away into the waiting arms of the police, she breaks down in a series of cries and screams.

Primal. The yelling and the screaming. Yaz barely speaks during the last half of the movie. She's crying and screaming, whether in fear or rage, or both. Primal elements cover her in the film in dirt and blood. Besides the earthen dirt, she's nearly consumed by fire and is cleansed by rain - more primal elements. The tunnels of the mine: forcing a primal fear in not only the characters, but the viewers. Fear of the dark, of strangers, cramped places, the unknown. The lust that lures Tom and Farid deeper into the trap: primal. The desire for money that fuels the gang to commit robbery in the first place. The rage of Yaz as she finally snaps. It's all there.

Now, I could just be reading what I want into it, and it may just be a really intense, bloody French torture movie. That said, I enjoyed it as a direct line into our primitive selves. We can always speculate what we would do in these extreme, fearful situations. Some of us, like Yaz, could bring ourselves to kick ass. But who knows? Fear is primal, and it's the part of us we can't control.

Until next time, make sure your shelters are secure and I'll see you from the skies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ils a.k.a. Them (2006) Including My Love For A Good Burger

I'm not all zombies and ghosts. So, when I asked Andre Dumas, author of the fantastic horror blog The Horror Digest (see, another shout-out!), to recommend to me some French horror films when I wanted to watch something a little different, she gave me the titles of four offerings. Martyrs was the first. The one I'm about to present was the second. Once again, I was not steered wrong.

A little symbolic segue: back when I lived in Michigan, there was a nearby town called Suttons Bay. In that little hamlet was a restaurant called Boone's Prime Time Pub, and in that restaurant were the absolute best hamburgers known to man. You know when you have the best burger known to man, and then eat burgers that are really good, you still compare them to the BBKTM? For me, Martyrs was that best burger, and Ils (referred to in here by its English name, Them) is that really great burger that gets compared to the original. Long segue, I know, but I'm hungry and burgers are always on my mind.

But, to compare it to Martyrs is really doing it an injustice. Them is an entirely different movie about an entirely different story. It's deftly directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, and stars two quite beautiful people in Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen. These two could easily be lead actors in Hollywood, and their acting chops more than hold up. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Ah, how idyllic.

As the movie opens, we are treated to a prologue wherein a mother and her teenage daughter argue about the daughter's attitude while driving at night in Romania. The mother swerves to avoid what she thought was a person, and they crash into a pole. They're fine, just shaken, but the minivan has seen better days. When the mother gets out to try fixing the engine somehow, she vanishes from from behind the upraised hood. The daughter, once annoyed by her mother but now worried and frightened, begins to hear sounds. There are whispers, taunting her. Mud collides with a window. The girl tries to phone the police, but is suddenly strangled from behind, although we can't make out who or what it is thanks to the rain.

The next day, we meet French teacher Clementine (Bonamy) as she leaves school for the day and drives home...right past the minivan from the prologue (being hauled off by the police...empty). She lives with her boyfriend Lucas (Cohen) in a really sweet old mansion on the Romanian countryside. Seriously, I wanted that house. It's a nice life: she teaches, and he's a writer. They even sort of have a dog, a stray that wanders by once in a while for food. All they need is a picket fence and they'd be set.

Yeah, not in this flick, babies.

That night, strange things happen. Awakened by her car stereo, Clementine, with Lucas, watches as someone blatantly steals her car. Then come the sounds. Footsteps. Doors opening and shutting. The TV goes on and off. The couple sees things. Flashlights. Fleeting figures. Someone is trying to break into the house, it seems, and they're being frustratingly ninja-like about it. It gets real when a door that Lucas just accidentally broke while swinging at nothing slams shut and puts a good chunk of glass in his leg. He makes it back to the locked bedroom and a waiting, frantic Clementine. All the while, he's glancing back at...what? We, the audience, don't see a thing. But something is there.

Attics are just no good.

Clem and Lucas manage to escape from the bedroom, but only make it to one of the bathrooms (I say "one of" because this house is enormous). From there, Clem figures she can climb into the attic and find a way out., hey, fellow horror fans, show of hands: do we know how trips to the attic work out in horror movies? That's right. Clem is not alone. Now we're seeing figures. Those feet stalking Clem belong to someone, but who? One of the attackers (we damn well know there are more than one) grabs Clem, but she fights back, causing the person to fall presumably to his or her death. The others, at least three or four of them, don't take kindly to that and step up their pursuit of the couple. They escape into the woods, chased by whooping, strange-noise-making...what? People? Something supernatural? Reaching a fence, Lucas is too injured to go over, so he sends Clem for help. Like the attic, "sending for help" never turns out well for any horror protagonist. Clem is captured and hauled off, but Lucas isn't far behind.

I'll keep it spoiler-free, but from here, we find out more about the attackers. Who they are, or rather what kind of people they are. They aren't who you might think. And even if you guessed semi-right, you're probably still a bit off. That final scene, so innocent and quiet, will still give you the loudest chills because the realization will set in. Even as you read the text which wraps up the story, you'll wonder just why it happened.

A very frantic Clementine...

Some of you will find yourself speculating, "well, I would've kicked some ass." Have you ever felt fear? I mean, real fear? How did you react? Did you puff up your chest, attach a chainsaw to your hand, and quip "Groovy"? Or did you feel nauseous, want to run, want to get away now? Fear does strange things to people. A lucky few can rise up and overcome it, maybe really turn the tables on physical attackers. Most of us will be looking for the nearest escape route, our breath terrifyingly short, the blood drumming in our ears. We'll forget the toughness. We'll just know we have to survive.

This is the second French horror movie in a row that, to me, had outstanding directing and acting going hand-in-hand. It also employed the minimalist approach: few settings, two main actors, and a tension-driven plot. There was relatively little blood in it, so gore fans might be disappointed, but come on...the tension was so solid. We see very little of the antagonists right up until the very last part of the movie, yet we absolutely know they're trouble.

Oh, and the sound. The sound was like another character in the movie. Seriously, when you watch Them, don't just turn out the lights, turn up the volume. Every little creak and step and shuffle is crisp and clean, and that's not even the sudden scary noises.

You know me and my love/fear of underground places.

You know, I still pine for those burgers at Boone's Prime Time Pub (they'll even mix in chopped jalapeños for you), but there have been other burgers almost as delicious that I would recommend to anyone. This burgermovie comes highly recommended from me now. It's quick (74 minutes) and it's tense, topped off with just being well-made.

OK, still hungry. Until next time, lock your doors.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Musical Horror: "Murder Ballads" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

When I'm flying up above the zombie hordes, I like a little music to keep me from going insane. Well, more insane than I already am. I'm pretty easy when it comes to music. I stand firmly in the rock genre, but I can handle anything from electronica to ambient to classic country to mambo. If it sounds good to me, it's good to me.

One of my favorite CD's in my collection might actually fall in the genre of horror. Let's see: killer kids, jealous lover killers, hitchhiker killers, guns, knives, rocks...all on one CD. All on Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds' amazing 1996 release, Murder Ballads. Murder ballads are story-songs about crimes of passion, but Cave and his crew expand past passion and dive right into madness as well.

"Song of Joy" kicks off the festivities with a song about a wandering man who finds himself at the door of a stranger, looking for a place to sleep. The man relates his tragic, horrifying story, one about his sullen wife and children whom he loved dearly. One night, he returns home to find them horribly murdered with the words "HIS RED RIGHT HAND" scrawled in blood on the wall. To me, there's something about this dude that's not registering right. Are you beckoning me in? I don't know...I leave it to your interpretation.

"Stagger Lee" is actually an old legend made into different versions of blues songs, about the murder of William "Billy" Lyons by Stagger Lee Shelton (read more about it here). Cave spares no description; this is not a song you play for your grandma. Massive profanity and wanton violence are set against the minimal music that suggests quite strongly what Stagger will do in certain...ahem...situations.

"Henry Lee" is one of the most beautiful songs not only on this album, but in my opinion. Cave brings in P. J. Harvey to sing the female lead about a young man who tries to let his illicit lover down easy. She has other ideas and stabs him to death with a pen knife before throwing his body into a well. Never has bloody mayhem sounded so gorgeous. Lie there, lie there, little Henry Lee/'Til the flesh drops from your bones/For the girl that you have in that merry green land/Can wait forever for you to come home. Brrr...shivers.

"Lovely Creature" describes what might best be a ghost story. A man travels with a beautiful woman, who accompanies him through the night. By the time the man makes it home, she's gone, but he's sure she still out there somewhere, or as Cave puts it: Somewhere she lies, this lovely creature/Beneath the slow drifting sands/With her hair full of ribbons/And green gloves on her hands.

"Where The Wild Roses Grow" is another beautiful song featuring the ethereal voice of Kylie Minogue. Yes, Kylie Minogue. I'm totally serious. One would think she didn't fit here, but she is perfect in the role of Eliza Day, the object of affection of Cave's character. Remember how in the film "Frankenstein," the Monster developed that child-like logic of "beautiful things belong in the water"? Yeah, something like that happens here, but it ain't child-like: And I kissed her goodbye/Said all beauty must die/And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth. This comes after Eliza Day makes this observation: On the third day he took me to the river/He showed me the roses and we kissed/And the last thing I heard was a muttered word/As he knelt above me with a rock in his fist. Yeah, not really the ideal date, you know.

"The Curse of Millhaven" is a cheeky little story-song told from the point of view of Loretta (but she prefers Lottie), a strong-willed girl who lives in the town of Millhaven, where chaos is throwing the little place into a tizzy. Murders, disappearances, vandalism...someone's causing the good people of Millhaven to panic. Lottie doesn't seem to mind much about it all...probably because she's the one behind it all. It's a darkly humorous peek into the insanity of a 15-year-old girl.

"The Kindness Of Strangers" features the poor young girl Mary Bellows. All she wants is to travel to the ocean, and she accepts a ride from a man named Richard Slade. They stop at a hotel, and she lays down her boundaries right away. She tells Slade she's a "good girl" and that she can't possibly "permit him in." He "tips his hat" and goes to his room, but the situation is left sadly open when this happens:
She sat on her bed and thought of home/With the sea breeze whistling all alone/O poor Mary Bellows/In hope and loneliness she crossed the floor/And undid the latch on the front door/O poor Mary Bellows/They found her the next day cuffed to the bed/A rag in her mouth and a bullet in her head/O poor Mary Bellows. Damn.

"Crow Jane" is about a legendary woman who lives near a town called New Haven and whose mind crawls and squirms with violence and vengeance. She gets a hold of several guns and as the song progresses, the population of New Haven drops from 48 to 28. People, do not piss off that nasty woman who lives alone down by the river.

"O'Malley's Bar" clocks in at just over 14 minutes and is a true story-song in all its gory, blood-soaked glory. It's a true descent into madness as a man - the main character telling the story - walks into O'Malley's Bar, which is full of familiar townsfolk just enjoying a beer. The man calmly begins shooting everyone he can, describing it in full detail. He relays what he sees, how he feels. He imagines himself as some kind of Angel of Death, that he has an absolute divine right to murder innocent people. It's unflinching.

"Death Is Not The End" is the lone "bright" spot in the entire CD. After the extreme mayhem of the last song, this cover of a Bob Dylan song basically tells the listener not to worry, not to fret, and that truly, "death is not the end." It features everyone on the CD, including Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, singing a verse, much like the end of a somber play. At this point, you want to throw flowers, but might be too depressed to do so.

I absolutely love this entire offering. Yeah, it's violent and it's depressing and it's unabashedly brutal. But they're stories. They're murder ballads, and they aren't meant to be about unicorns and jellybeans. It's not everyone's cup of tea - I have some friends that may pass out during "Song Of Joy" - but it's well-crafted, scary music.

It's a slasher film for your ears.

Until next time from the skies, keep rocking.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Martyrs (2008)

So I was looking for something different. I often jump around the international horror genre and thought, "where are some places of which I'd like to see more?" I didn't feel like a zombie movie (I know, shock of shocks) and have recently had a string of disappointments in the Japanese ghost genre so I wanted to have a break from that for a while. I'm always open to recommendations and the one for the 2008 French film "Martyrs" came from Andre Dumas, author of the great horror blog The Horror Digest. She did not steer me wrong on this one. Not by a long shot.

"Martyrs" was directed by Pascal Laugier and not only stars but showcases the tremendous acting talents of Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï. I mean, they are so good in this, my paltry words do little justice to their talents.

As I begin, let me tell you that to discuss too much of the plot is to give too much away. The twists and reveals that unfold in this bloody thriller are so much a part of the ride, it'd be like showing you a blueprint of a roller coaster, then taking you on it. No way. Much like the first time I road a roller coaster a mere seven years ago when my brother said, "let's just ride the biggest one and see if we like it." "Martyrs," much like that roller coaster, was something I liked very much. So I'll show you the roller coaster, which may involve some little things revealed, but it's up to you to ride it.

I'll take you only so far in the recap, but after that, you're on your own. A young girl, bloodied and beaten, stumbles out into the harsh daylight from a run-down abattoir (full of rust and decay - see my earlier post on how much I enjoy buildings like that). She is tense with fear and adrenaline, and as she starts running, she allows the screams to finally escape. The girl, Lucie, is rescued and raised at an orphanage as the investigation into the building reveals nothing but some remnants of her torture. Standing out in particular is the chair to which she was chained, a hole in the seat providing a place for her to relieve herself. Immediately, you, the viewer, want to get your hands on the vile filth who put poor Lucie through that.

At the orphanage, Lucie is at first anti-social and withdrawn. One brave, compassionate little girl, Anna, reaches out to her and becomes her best friend and sister figure. But being friends with Lucie isn't easy. The nightmares never left her. Not only that, there is a mysterious, violent figure that haunts and attacks her.

Cut forward 15 years. An affluent French family enjoys a nice breakfast full of banter and teasing, mixed in with some teen angst. The daughter is a champion swimmer. The son is a restless genius. The doorbell rings and as the father answers it, an adult Lucie (Jampanoï) blows him away with a double-barreled shotgun. Weeping and shaking, Lucie systematically kills each member of the family before breaking down, then calling Anna to come help her. Anna is terrified. Lucie was supposed to confront the couple. Why? From a newspaper article on the daughter's swimming exploits, Lucie swears the parents are the couple who tortured her all those years ago. Swears that it's them. But Lucie has some serious problems. That mysterious person, a horribly disfigured, growling woman, repeatedly stalks and attacks her in the home. Anna is there to calm Lucie down, even getting her to sleep, but it's no easy task. Anna takes it upon herself to dispose of the bodies, but even that has its complications, as you will see.

It's not long after Lucie's final breakdown that the movie takes another of its sharp, 90-degree angle turns and almost throws you from the ride. Oh, yeah, and get ready for more because they're coming. Did I mention the bloody, brutal house of horrors section of the ride? Yeah, steel yourself for that, too, because it is relentless. "Martyrs" takes you from believing one thing, to revealing that there is something much, much deeper. Much, much more sinister. There is a moment while Anna is talking to her estranged mother on the phone from the family's house that involves a door. A door that wasn't there just minutes before. It is the moment that your roller coaster gets that much more thrilling, more intense. What happens after that will run your poor little soul straight through the wringer. You will learn what the title of the movie means. Let me just say two words as a clue: manufacturing martyrs.

The ending is...well, I won't give you a shred of what happens in the last portion of the movie, but it's open for interpretation. It will leave you thinking about it long after you power down your DVD player. To me, that means something. I haven't mulled over an ending like this since "The Mist."

I cannot gush enough about this movie. The acting set the bar high. The photography and direction is beautiful, bordering on Hitchcockian. I understand that Laugier is tabbed to direct the remake of Hellraiser. I'm not often keen on remakes, but Clive Barker's creation would be in good hands if this film is any indication of the type of product Laugier will put out. Oh, and the twists and turns, the twists and turns...

It is a roller coaster that will blow your mind, slug you in the gut, and headbutt you...and you'll ask for more.

So make some popcorn and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dead Air (2009)

Radio has been a constant in times of chaos. There have been radio broadcasts at pivotal times in history. The crash of the Hindenburg. The War of the Worlds. FDR's "fear itself" speech. President Obama's "at war with ourselves" speech when the zombie outbreak began.

"Dead Air," starring Otis Driftwood Bill Moseley and Patricia Tallman and directed by Corbin Bernsen (yes, that Corbin Bernsen), explores the power of radio along with what happens when terrorism is the reason behind a viral/zombie-ish outbreak.

A radio host not concerned with ratings? Whaaaa?

Moseley plays Logan Burnhardt, a nighttime shock-jock for a Los Angeles radio station hugely popular for being a controversial, confrontational personality. In reality, though, he's a nice guy with a young wife and daughter who knows how to separate his on-air and off-air personality, despite its difficulty. Drama follows him no matter what, as his producer is also his ex-wife, Lucy (Tallman). Their relationship is contentious, but professional for the most part. Joining him for his shift are his co-host Gil (David Moscow) and engineer Burt (Joshua Feinman), not to mention approximately one million listeners (according to Lucy at a later point in the movie). Seems like it's going to be another night behind the microphone, but Logan's running late. He has no material, so he just wings it, coming up with a subject off the top of his head.

Paranoia. He goes with paranoia, and if you don't see the foreshadowing here, then I may have to drag out an old-school blackboard.

A few callers are crackpots that Logan insults (actually rather tamely, I thought), but one guy he goes completely off on for his beliefs that "the Muslims are responsible for all that's wrong in the world." Everyone looks nervous as Logan tears this nutter a new one, maybe two new ones, and the audience finally gets to see the bite Burnhardt has. It's a bit of a spoiler to say why he gets so riled up, but I'll just say it's very personal. This is actually a well-played bit of character background that unfolds rather nicely.

At an NBA game, we are privy to two terrorists up to some no-good shenanigans. They prepare to unleash some gas into the event, but one of the butterfingers causes it to leak early. He freaks out and the other is forced to shoot him through his pathetic noggin before stumbling out in a gas mask. No, not conspicuous at all.

It's business as usual at the station for a while until reports of rioting and strange behavior start emenating from that very same stadium. News stories show frenzied crowds and some people just acting like utter nutbars. Said nutbars branch out, seemingly multiplying. This infections is along the nasty lines: it can spread through bites and scratches. The terrorist who didn't botch his massive hate crime catches up with two others, but due to his exposure to the gas, is put down by the leader, Abir (Navid Negahban), who also happens to be his brother. The remaining two miscreants make their way to the radio station to further along their plan.

Meanwhile, Logan doesn't want to give his airwaves over to the Emergency Broadcast System, choosing instead to field calls from frightened people in the thick of the chaos. He's not enjoying it, like you would think certain other radio talk show hosts (who shall remain nameless here) would - after all, hey, ratings. Logan's got other, more important things on his mind, namely his wife and daughter. How frustrating is that? Trapped in a well-fortified building but knowing your loved ones are somewhere out there, in the path of all the bitey, infectious insanity.

The terrorists make it to the radio, and Abir ditches his last ally, telling him to kill himself before the infection spreads in him. Abir, after all, has only enough antidote for himself. Proving himself to be one gracious dude, Gil volunteers to take his motorcycle and speed over to Logan's house to help protect his family. He nearly doesn't make it out, thanks to an infected Burt (as a result of an earlier scuffle with the security guard). From his bike, Gil reports back about the desolate streets and sudden throngs of crazy bloody-eyed people.

Infected terrorist, you deserve the painful diarrhea I'm sure that chemical will cause.

Abir reaches the studio and holds Logan and Lucy hostage, forcing Logan to give out false information to spread the panic and fan the flames of hate, including inflammatory comments directed at Muslims. There's a good reason why this makes Logan uncomfortable, and again, I won't spoil it for you. In a struggle, Abir's last syringes are broken, and he makes Logan retrieve some from a diabetic co-worker's desk. There's a showdown in a stairwell as the delirious Abir runs into his former cohort, now fully infected, which results in a humorous take on the bullet to the brain moment. Cue a newly-infected Susan Ruttan from L.A. Law (it is directed by Corbin Bernsen, mind you) and Abir is meat.

Scratched during a battle with that pesky security guard who shows up again, Logan takes the antidote and survives, guiding the few listeners he has left into a new day. The antidote will be taken to the proper authorities, and the terrorists will not have won, though the death toll is huge. Logan is able to go home again, and be reunited with his family. There is, as is standard with most horror films these days, a bit of a twist, but it is left open for interpretation. Depends on your mood how you might see it as ending.

Now, this movie didn't suck whatsoever, but oddly, it didn't blow me out of the sky, either. It clocked in somewhere smack dab in the middle. I like my infection movies full of blood, guts, goo, and other multi-colored liquids and masses. When there's biting and clawing, well, I don't expect the infected to hold back with a "oh, sorry, there, chief - didn't mean to poke your eye." Several times in the movie, and I can understand budget constraints and even a little "leaving to the imagination," there were moments when something terrible was about to happen to someone and, just a bit underwhelming. They did save the ripping and tearing for Abir, which is poetic justice, I suppose. And there was a funny scene when Abir shoots his former colleague in the head. Seems the infection dulls the pain receptors and causes people to be puzzled while they fish the bullets from their wounds. To rehash, the infected aren't dead, just really sick and with a hard-on for beating, biting, kicking, and bleeding from the eyeballs.

In all, I just felt like it was a good movie about how terrorism, paranoia, and the fear of chemical attack go arm in arm, but as a whole, one that fell just short of being really good. Bill Moseley is fun in just about anything, and I really feel Patricia Tallman is an underrated actress (she always gets me in the remake of "Night Of The Living Dead"). Yeah, the acting was fine. Some sequences were standouts, too. Burt's transformation in the elevator in front of a shitting-in-his pants Gil was very well done. A quick long shot of Gil speeding down an empty street, with infected nutjobs emerging from random shadows, really did it for me.

So, up here in my helicopter, I'll stick with music but hey, if Logan Burnhardt wants to go back on the air, I'll listen, but I'm afraid he's just too nice a guy to be controversial. Kind of like this movie was too nice to be really scary.

'Til next time, keep your doors and windows barricaded.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Changeling (1980)

Even though I have a deep love for the horror genre, it's very rare when something actually reaches below my skin and gives me genuine chills. It's not because what I see is bad - well, sometimes it can be, but we won't worry about that - I've seen some movies, read some books, and subscribe to one comic that is a monthly punch in the gut (Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrow's Crossed). It may be because certain primal images deliver the blow straight to the subconscious fear center and causes the brain to make with the heebie-jeebies.

Welcome to "The Changeling," directed by Peter Medak. This offering from 1980 (the year the Phillies won their first World Series1) features George C. Scott as John Russell, a composer and university professor who, in the beginning of the film loses his family. They don't just leave. No, they are brutally taken from him in a horrible automobile accident that he witnesses just mere feet away. The movie starts with that. It kicks you in your solar plexus, then backs off to say "I'll wait until you catch your breath."

Eat your heart out, Don Draper.

Without going into too much revealing detail, we get to know John a little better as he slowly recovers from mourning his wife and daughter. He's having trouble, and who wouldn't? He takes a job teaching at the university while he composes music. Living quarters? Well, there's the rub. He rents a house suggested to him by a nice lady, Claire (Trish Van Devere, Scott's real-life wife), from the historical society. Seems like a nice place. I'd live there.

Things start happening, though. A strange, rhythmic banging sound echoes through the house. Water taps turn on by themselves. John sees the image of a young boy in the water of the tub. An attic window spits glass at John outside. He gets disturbed, but also curious. Seems to be strange, especially the laughter. The attic itself is hidden behind boards, and when he opens it, it appears to have been left in its state since 1909. There's a wheelchair, a music box, a journal and oodles of cobwebs.

Needs just a bit of Pledge.

But when the little red ball that once belonged to his daughter rolls down the stairs not once, but twice (and believe me, the second time's the charm)...well, that's when the movie asks you "recovered from that kick yet, because I'm warming up my foot."

Aw, shiii...

From here, it turns into a mystery rolled up with the creepy aspect, as John and Claire try to solve the mystery of who this ghost is, how and why he died, and what he wants. There's a seance, and you know some good will come of that. Oh, it does. But it was the post-seance that gave me the biggest chills, as John listens to the tape made of the seance. Readers, turn your TV's up for this entire movie. The sound is incredible, and is a character all in itself. Sometimes the noise is slamming into your ear, at others it's not quite there, like you heard it in your imagination. And I'm telling you, when John hears what he hears on that tape...

Not an unreasonable reaction.

As characters in a horror/suspense movie, John and Claire displayed traits that really endeared them to me, such as intelligence and curiosity. Not dumb curiosity of the "let's go into Stabyerguts Woods and find firewood" sort. When John finds evidence of an extra room boarded up, he tears it down. I'd have done the exact same thing. He's not petrified with fear, though he has every right. He's curious and he wants to help find justice for this spirit. I hoped Claire wouldn't be the less smart of the duo, and I was pleased when she showed the same depth and brains that John had. The acting by Scott and Van Devere was top-notch.

You want dumb? Try police detective De Witt (John Colicos - the supervillain Mikko Cassadine on General Hospital in the 80's...don't ask how I know that). On the payroll of the movie's antagonist, Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas), De Witt makes threats and demands in a GRAND SHAKESPEAREAN VOICE that made me wish he was in the film for longer. Threats against a man trying to help solve a mystery about a ghost? Eh, not a good idea.

Gone to that Globe Theater in the sky.

Looking for something creepy, atmospheric, well-acted, and well-made with believable characters and truly chilling moments? Find a way to get this movie, pop it in your DVD player or whatever the looters didn't take after the zombie apocalypse, and turn the lights off. You won't be disappointed.

Oh, yeah, and you might want to remove all little plastic red balls from your home.


1As a lifelong Phillies fan, I am contractually obligated to add this every time the year 1980 is mentioned.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Roots Of Personal Horror, Volume 1

There have been a lot of factors that lead to my love of the horror genre. Everything from my fascination by the original "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" series to collecting ghost stories contributed something along the way. It's no secret that I have an affinity for apocalyptic revenant or infection fiction. You know, that unstoppable juggernaut of disease that might only spare a few lucky sociological experiments. However, it doesn't take away from my love of supernatural fiction, especially when it involves ghostly, often abandoned, locales.

I may have always been enamored with abandoned places, especially businesses or even spookier, services like hospitals or - gulp - asylums. I don't know. I have always imagined what history they had - they're ghosts with walls. But I can trace back to an adventure on wintry night in Northville, Michigan, when it took root in my subconscious for good.

One of my very best friends, Keith, lived near Detroit and often told us tales of childhood shenanigans. One such set of shenanigans involved sneaking into an enormous complex of abandoned buildings that were once the Wayne County Training School for Feeble-Minded Children. Yeah, you read that right. Try getting away with that kind of name these days. Or don't, because it's not cool. But back in the 1920's, that's what passed for a serious name. To Detroit residents, it was known by the much shorter, much more politically correct, "The Tunnels." This name was a result of the method by which one gets around in there without being detected: the steam tunnels connecting all the major buildings.

One weekend, Keith and I were joined by Ric, another of my very best friends and roommates, and made the trip to Keith's home for the weekend. There, we met up with Jim, Keith's childhood friend who knew The Tunnels like the back of his hand. It was a dreary, hazy winter night. Snow on the ground, slight rain glossing it with an icy sheen. We weren't even there yet, and it was surreal.

The first thing we did was hide from a train. Talk about a bunch of grown men acting like kids in the 1940's, we were that. Plus, we were going into an area that was forbidden. To get caught at that time was a substantial fine for trespassing. We had no intention of vandalizing anything, but the police don't care. Approaching through the woods, we found the first building and in that strange night, our flashlights and the fuzz-toned moon in the sky the only source of light, it looked like ghostly past and post-atomic future all in one.

My mind reeled. I got scared. And then I fell in love.

Old buildings with rust and brick and decay and graffiti, derelicts beached by history. I imagined: what was their purpose? What kind of person worked or lived inside the walls? What ghosts remained?

Jim took us inside the first one, then down into the tunnels themselves. Cramped, we could only go single file in the absolute and pure darkness. There was real danger. Maybe Jim didn't know every nook and cranny of the place. And there were a lot of those. Gangs had been known to frequent the place. We'd heard tales of an LSD-riddled girl trapped down there for who-knows-how-long. When Ric's flashlight started flickering, it was icing on the adrenaline cake.

The everyday trappings of society were everywhere, too. There was a bowling alley in the activity center. We found a pool. A theater. Rooms, beds, desks, even canisters filled with food in the fallout shelter. It was like we'd found a place frozen forever in time, aided by the cold winter air. So quiet, too. Only our voices and the wind, and that was fairly calm.

We saw some other things, too. A blue light moving past a set of windows. Looked at straight on by all of us. No road nearby, so it wasn't headlights. It may have been something entirely innocent, but we've always liked to think it was something else. There was also ominous, telling, and often hilarious graffiti. One scrawled message blurted out "Hail Satin!" I guess we were to praise fabric.

It was a real adventure, almost like the kind The Goonies have, only much less dangerous and marketable. But the images I came away with have stuck with me for years since then. I still dream of underground tunnels, ghostly feelings, and empty places. They aren't nightmares. They're sleep gold.

Much like the horror genre binds many of us as friends, the thrill of The Tunnels binds anyone who visited them. They're gone now, but those who experienced it even once still talk about it. As a wrestling insider in Detroit for a few years, all I had to say was "remember The Tunnels?" and it became a campfire story-fest backstage. Keith, Ric, and I still talk about it to this day. And we toast the memory of Jim, who passed away several years after. He was a really, really good guy.

The abandoned asylum and good friends. The rush of doing something we shouldn't and seeing things that were pieces of history. There is no doubt it contributed to my horror palate.

For some great pictures (which is where I got the two above) try this link at Forgotten Michigan. For more information, including maps, try this link at Northville Tunnels.

Thanks for reading this long post, fellow survivors. See you next time...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Personal Zombie Soundtrack

So, to entertain myself, I often create themed CD's. Nothing new, I know. I've got ones ranging from 80's hair metal to music I envision being played in a strip club to songs you don't expect to blast out of my stereo's speakers (like William Shatner's rendition of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"). One of the most obvious ones someone like me would create sits firmly in my player right now: a zombie mix.

Now, outside of the WGON Helicopter site, I'm writing a story that is zombie-themed. The idea for it came many years ago, well before the first remake of Dawn of the Dead, and it started as a script. It's still in its first draft as a novel, and hovering around 450 pages. My talkative side came out in my writing, so my editing side must step in for the second draft. While writing this story - hell, while writing any story - I turned to music to help me build scenes or moods. The right song can put me emotionally in the story, which hopefully reflects to the reader. For most of the actual story writing, I listened to dark ambient music on WinAmp. It had that minimal, forboding structure that wasn't distracting, but added to said mood. But there are some other songs I had in my possession that I put on a disc that could be seen as a "soundtrack" to the story. Each song gave me images that ended up in the story, whether as they originally came to me, or in edited form.

See? Talkative. I've gone on long enough with the setup. Let me delve into the songs and maybe a little about each one.

Track 1 - L'Alba Dei Morti Viventi by Goblin - The main theme of the original "Dawn of the Dead" works here, too. Spooky and plodding - watch the movie again, and you'll feel it, too.

Track 2 - Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums by A Perfect Circle - I could see the contagion spreading to this song. It's relentless, and I imagine the disease would be the same.

Track 3 - End Of The World by Cold - "...when everyone else got sick." Kind of fits, I think. It's the end of the world, and they can do nothing about it. Plus, it has a thunderclap as a sound effect, which always gets me.

Track 4 - Forgiven by Within Temptation - I really fell for Within Temptation's music during this. This song is tremendously sad, and works in a scene that was heartbreaking to write. Someone close to the main character falls victim to the disease, and begins his cycle of guilt. "You gave up the fight/you left me behind/all that's done's forgiven" and "I watched the clouds drifting away/still the sun can't warm my face." Brrrr! Chills. I had to put my hero through hell, though.

Track 5 - Escape From Hellview by CKY - OK, this song really doesn't fit in the story, and I'm positive it's not about zombies, but it just put me in a rock-n-roll zombie type of mindset.

Track 6 - Alcohulin' Ass by HELLYEAH - Somewhere in the story, this fits. I see a set of travelers, brandishing guns and assorted weapons, on an open road for what may be their only rest as they drive.

Track 7 - Falling Again by Lacuna Coil - "I'm here, another day is gone/I don't want to die/please be there when I arrive/don't cry...please." There's a sad pleading which goes with what some of the characters feel. Hey, they don't want to die, and the way they're there for each other ranges from sweet to downright ewwww.

Track 8 - Say My Name by Within Temptation - Another Within Temptation song, yes. The lyrics might not seem to match what I'm writing, but I just see the way the music builds as key. When the guitars really kick in, two of my characters realize their rushed feelings for each other are just fine.

Track 9 - S.O.S. (Anything But Love) by Apocalyptica featuring Christina Scabbia) - Two characters develop a seriously dysfunctional relationship. She falls for douchebags, and he is one. The poor girl's feelings are played upon by more than one person in this story, and it gets to be too much.

Track 10 - Pretender by James Labrie - This is just pure gun-firing action. I just see this as one of the "let's get the hell out of here" carnage scenes.

Track 11 - Knights of Cydonia by Muse - Let me just preface by saying, I love this song. It has cheesy elements. It may not fit perfectly into this story, but the bombastic heroism of the song would highlight any zombie soundtrack! Guitar riff partway through = the hero(es) kick ass.

Track 12 - Join Me In Death by HIM - The love metal band had to make it on here somewhere. There's a sad scene featuring a bit of an explosion where we say goodbye to a couple characters. Kind of fits there.

Track 13 - The Host of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance - Oh, man, does this song just drip with a haunting sadness. You may have heard it towards the end of the film "The Mist." I see it just after the story loses half its cast, and the survivors not only have to see it, but have to deal with it in the moments afterward.

Track 14 - In This River by Black Label Society - Little metal ballad to wind it down. Hero finally breaks down after everything - he'll need his friends, his fellow survivors right about now.

Honorable mention: Doomsday by Murray Gold - This piece from the Doctor Who episode of the same name was amazingly haunting during that show. I can see it as the final song played as the characters ride towards their final fate - is it safe, or is it zombie-filled? There's a trace of hope in the song, but it's still forboding.

There you have it. There are other songs that didn't make the cut, but they're quite good, too. I think many of you might have other songs which could make a zombie soundtrack that I hadn't even thought of or heard. Please share 'em with me! I'm always open to new stuff.

In the meantime, enjoy some music and remember to be careful of corners when running from the bitey people.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Checking In From High Above The Biters

This may be a bit scattered today - I'm kind of all over the place, helping corral survivors towards the safe zone, keeping the infected away from the north gates. All in a day's work.

I'm going to start my own little horror hall of fame here soon. Been wanting to for ages, but I've been distracted with all sorts of non-horror business. The hall of fame itself will be my own tribute to those who have made horror enjoyable for me. Many of my choices will coincide with others' choices, some may not - hard to say at this point. It's just something I want to do for fun and respect to the genre I love.

Take a peek over there to the right and down a little. See those other horror blogs and such? Take some time and visit them. Many of them are by friends I have made since I decided to take my horror fandom to the Intra-webs. These are good, creative people who put out some real awesomeness out there. So go take a look, you won't be sorry!

Among the things suffering because of my scatterbrained ways in recent weeks is my movie-viewing pace. I did manage to sneak in a viewing of Sion Sono's Exte: Hair Extensions. This bizarre, creepy, and oddly humorous Japanese offering centered mostly around -- you guessed it -- hair extensions. Dig this: You got this bizarre, Jame Gumb-wannabe morgue attendant named Yamazaki.

Jame Gumb...

...Yamazaki. Distant cousins?

Seems Yamazaki has an intense hair fetish, clipping it off of corpses and often crafting hair extensions to sell when he isn't displaying/rolling in them at home. Oh, and he steals a corpse to take home when he notices it growing hair in the morgue. He thinks, "hey, free hair factory." You also have sweetly innocent Yuko (played by Gogo from Kill Bill, Volume 1 - Chiaki Kuriyama), a novice hairdresser at a busy salon. Yuko has her own subplotline wherein she "inherits" her young niece, Mami, from her abusive, hosebag sister. Their paths cross as Yamazaki creepily stalks both Yuko and Mami because they have perfect hair. Meanwhile, he's selling extensions from the corpse, and that's not exactly going well. At least not for the ladies who wear the extensions, who have visions of the dead girl's end and die from hair-related chaos.

Hair. Growing from eyeballs. And tongues. Everywhere.

If all that doesn't put you off hair extensions, I don't know what would. Well, just don't buy them from a creepy guy presenting them to you in an old bird cage.

Things go from bad to worse as Mami is taken back to Yamazaki's house, and Yuko goes to save her. Yamazaki's in heaven since there's all this hair, and now he has his two perfect specimens at his disposal. When he tries to cut Mami's hair, well, it all falls apart - and for him, literally. The ending had a plausible reason, and a moment where I laughed out loud - kind of a "what the hell did I just see?" sort of laugh.

One of these days, I promise I'll get to The Red Shoes - maybe even tonight. But you know I've made and not delivered on that promise before, so I'll see what cards I'm dealt.

That's all for now. Got to land this bird and get prepared for another busy day tomorrow. That's all for now. Stay mostly sane.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Zombieland, Trick R Treat, Carved, and Moving the Helicopter

You know, I put up these blogs and think, "Oh, yeah, I'll post something every week, maybe more than twice" but does it ever turn out that way? Nope. Damn undead keep me busy.

A major source of distraction has been packing up the old helicopter and moving from the wide-open spaces of northwestern Michigan to the twisty hustle-n-bustle of western Connecticut. Navigating the roads eastward through the jungle of deserted cars and hungry biters was a strain, but we're entrenched in the new shelter and I'm back to writing again. Of course, I've said that before, so let me get out my huge grain of salt.

One of the first things I did upon settling here was take in a documentary...I mean, horror flick I'd been dying to see. No pun intended. That flick: Zombieland.

Every so often, I have an amazing experience at the movies. A couple off the top of my head include Aliens in 1986 and Grindhouse in 2007. Experiences where I want to turn around after the movie and walk right back in to see once more. Zombieland can now be added to that list.

From the design of the movie, wherein the credits and graphics can be considered a star in their own right, to the likable characters, each distinct and complete in such a short time frame. The plot is straightforward: survival. But that's all you need when you've got laughs around every corner and well-made zombies (and it's no spoiler to mention they're not really dead, just insanely sick) to amp up the gore factor.

I personally was fine with the romance that buds partway into the film - I respectfully disagree with the opinion that Columbus was an annoying character and Wichita wasn't hot. I liked each of the characters and found them all to be charming. And yes, Tallahassee is badass, and I think that's the point.

And by the way, I'm not going to spoil the cameo, but it is seriously one of the most surreal, funny moments in a horror/comedy in ages. At one point - and those of you who've seen it - I was practically on the floor when a certain other movie was joyfully referenced.

Once I got my Netflix squared away and found them a safe, biter-free route to my new place, I finally got to see Trick R Treat. Coming off Zombieland, I may have been unfair to Trick R Treat. It didn't give me the punch in the gut I had expected, but that's not to say it wasn't good. It was. It was very, very good, in fact. The stories intertwined, which, as a "Lost" fan I love. One character shows up here and then has a part over there. Anna Paquin never looked so good. Dylan Baker and Brian Cox, I believe, were the acting highlights of the movie. These are some consummate pros. One other thing I really enjoyed: the atmosphere. It really felt like a Halloween-themed movie. If they ever did a sequel, I'd be just fine with that.

I also finally got Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman, and despite a very slow start (which I've come to expect from proper Asian horror), it gained some momentum. An urban legend come to life - at first, I was dubious. I wasn't sure the path they were on was going to produce a good movie, but it took a seriously supernatural turn that eschewed huge effects, except for the woman's mouth. How the Slit-Mouthed Woman moved around was very effective and set up the "uh-oh" ending. Not a half-bad movie, but I'm looking for something more terrifying next time.

OK, well, my friends, it's time to run. I may have another review later, after I watch Exte: Hair Extensions - honest to God, that's the title. Looks to be a nice little J-horror offering. We shall see.

In the meantime, keep your windows and doors boarded up. They're dead, but they're relentless.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

[REC] (2007)

Some spoilers may lace this entry. Taste with caution.

A linear story. A simple location. A loss of control. You can't turn away!

Three very basic ingredients mixed together by writers Jaume Belagaro and Luis Berdejo, and baked by Belagaro and Paco Plaza in the beautiful oven of Barcelona, Spain, to make the delicious dish known as [REC].

Yeah, you see what I did there. Food analogies. I'm going somewhere with this.

The average movie-goer or novice horror might believe - if just for a moment - that [REC] somehow copied an American film called Quarantine. I mean, it's easy to think that, really. Same plot. Nearly the same players. Filmed in the same first-person way. However, Quarantine is a fairly decent remake of our subject. I personally thought Quarantine was pretty good, and I expected [REC] to be slightly better. I felt - and quite happily - that [REC] was not only far superior, but one of the best horror films to grace my DVD player in quite some time. And I've seen some good ones lately.

So how does this horror equivalent of a fine dinner experience unfold? Well, tuck in your napkin and I'll tell you - without spoiling too much, if I can help it.

OK, throughout the entire movie, we see only what Pablo's (Pablo Rosso) camera sees, for this is a television taping. Angela Vidal (the cute-as-a-button Manuela Velasco) hosts a documentary series that covers what happens while the residents of Spain (well, those with normal daytime schedules) are sleeping. Hence the name of the show, "While You Sleep." We never see Pablo's face, but Angela guides us and Pablo through the terrifying events that occur inside the apartment building that provides one of two sets of the movie. The other set is a firehouse, where the movie begins. For this installment of her show, Angela is visiting a local firehouse to see how the firemen cope with overnight life. She visits the cafeteria, plays basketball in the gym, and quietly hopes - trying not to sound morbid - that the firehouse gets a call so they can show the firemen in action.

The call finally comes: a woman is screaming, trapped in her apartment. Angela and Pablo join two of the firemen and policemen in investigating the emergency, and along the way we meet many of the denizens of the old place, all complaining about the noise. They're a cross-section of average Spanish citizens from a variety of backgrounds. Many would say that here is your buffet of cannon fodder. They would not be wrong.

When they get into the apartment, they find the lady, cowering in the dark like a David Lynch character. Can't quite...see her properly. The obviously sick lady becomes Sick - with a capital "S" - when she bites down on one of the policemen and going after the others before she's shot. This routine call just went from tense to strange to downright bloody chaos in a matter of seconds, and it's all caught with Pablo's camera.

What follows is claustrophobic, frustrated terror as everyone inside is quarantined (yeah, see where they got the name for the remake?). The poor cannon fodder tenants are sealed inside with no explanation and faced with death by sniper if they try to escape. There must be some disease here, because people aren't taking the bites very well, and there was already a sick little girl to begin with - flu, they think. This is a movie about disease...what do you think it is? When a health inspector enters to assess the situation, he gets caught up in the bloody, bitey carnage.

It all comes together as to why the authorities are there, how they got there so quick, and the connection to one of the tenants inside. But it's all going to hell, and no one has time to sit around and think about the ins and outs and the whys and hows. People fall left and right, until it's just Angela and Pablo. That quick scene of the stairwell teeming with the infected, all growling and moaning as they sprint up the stairs, is utterly terrifying.

Like a great survival horror video game on speed, our newscasters must find a key to a door under the building. Finding the key was tough enough, but they are soon forced into a penthouse where a man from the Vatican lived. I'm not going to go into the details of this part of the movie. I can only tell you that the clues in the Vatican agent's pitch-dark apartment - think of it: why is someone from a religious powerhouse there? - lead to a chilling implication. Much more chilling than the remake, by far. And did you really think they'd be alone in this apartment?


It's safe to say that I absolutely dug this flick. Insane, fast-paced, and disturbing...all from a first-person perspective. You are there. You can't look away. And really, you shouldn't since this movie is an Awesome Sandwich.

There I go, back to the food analogies again. Those biters outside the safety fence are really carved on my subconscious, I suppose.

Let's see if I can be more consistent with this thing.

Take care, and I'll see you from the chopper.