Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tidbits for 4-19-09

There's a break in the horror movie-viewing schedule right now as I polish up the old whirlybird. Let me take some time to alert you to some other sites and items worth a peek or two:

* Have some memories from your childhood about something you saw on TV or at the movies or read in a book that was disturbing or frightening to you? Maybe you don't remember exactly what you saw, but I've got just the place for you to hang out: Kindertrauma. They were one of the first sites I plugged over on the sidebar because it is just the perfect place to reminisce about that strange Bigfoot movie from the 70's or some weird Carvel ice cream commercial or, hell, just that classic, Burnt Offerings. Uncle Lancifer and Aunt John, along with their many readers, offer reading material that will keep you busy for hours. Days, even. I can, and have, spent all day on Kindertrauma. Go. You won't be disappointed.

* This is old news now, but I think there's some serious potential here. Jackie Earle Haley (most recently Rorschach in Watchmen) is your new Freddy Krueger in the reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street, according to this item from Finally, people are seeing what we 70's kids saw: the guy can act.

* While I've been concentrating mostly on film, I'm going to be covering some other media as well. Soon, I'll create a post about the disturbingly insane comic, "Crossed," by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows, published by Avatar Press. If it doesn't classify as horror, I don't know what does.

* Food doesn't usually equate to horror (unless you're watching The Stuff), but the wonderful (and wonderfully gross) site This Is Why You're Fat could send many screaming to their fruit bowls.

OK, I have to go tighten the Jesus nut on the WGON chopper, then it's off to see where the zombie horde is today...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Crazies (1973)

So, who are "the crazies"? The townies, poisoned by tainted water stemming from the crash of a military plane carrying "Trixie," a biological weapon? The scientists, stretched thin from trying to find a cure while madness surrounds them? The military, charging in with little remorse or organization to shut down an innocent Pennsylvania town? When you watch The Crazies, George A. Romero's first major film after Night of the Living Dead, that's the three-headed question that arises: who really are the crazies named in the title?

After a long day of aerial observation of the zombie apocalypse, I settled in to watch this 1973 film. It has long held cult status among horror fans, but I hadn't seen it until now. Being a Romero fan, I owed it to myself to see it. And, honestly, it was a lot different than I thought it'd be.

Characterization is right on from the start, which is always something one must do to tell a story. After a prologue in which an insane man kills his wife off-screen, threatens his children, and sets his house on fire, we meet David (W. G. McMillan) and Judy (Lane Carroll), a couple that for some reason, made me think of a Ramones song. Alas, but Judy is no punk here. She is the pregnant nurse love interest of ex-Green Beret fireman David, and we learn much about them in the first few minutes. Their stories split for a time as Judy finds a frenetic scene at her workplace as the military has suddenly appeared to account for a crashed plane that held a biological weapon. David and best friend Clank (Harold Wayne Jones), a former high school football star who harbors some jealousy of David, tend to the fire but soon find themselves on the run when Judy makes a break from the hospital on orders from her boss, who fears for her safety.

The town is cordoned off and townspeople are rounded up to be held in the high school. The military seems unemotional, and the image is boosted by their white haz-mat suits and gas masks. They are faceless and in a way, voiceless as each of them sounds the same (a point David drives home when he poses as one of them later in the film). Many of the citizens are confused and defensive. After all, the military's coming into their homes and forcing them out. And really, how can you tell who has the disease and who doesn't when everyone's stretched to their limits? A-ha! Therein lies the rub!

The military brings in Dr. Watts (Richard France, who played the beleagured Dr. Rauch in Dawn of the Dead), who once worked on Trixie to find a cure. He's exhausted, bewildered, and angry at the red-tape workings of the "emergency," but he sets about doing what he's asked to do. Our trio of heroes is captured, but escape from a van with Artie (Richard Liberty, who was the delightful Dr. Logan in Day of the Dead) and his daughter, Kathy (the hauntingly pretty Lynn Lowry, a reigning queen of B-horror). They evade the troops, no easy task since Kathy is obviously sick and frantic and protective Artie isn't much better, finally holing up in a house after Clank kills all five of the soldiers there. His rantings afterward demonstrate that he is slowly succumbing to Trixie, but to his credit, he's fighting hard to resist it.

You'd think there'd be some rest here for our travelers, but no. Artie rants to Clank about protecting his daughter from the immorality in the world, but what happens the next morning is disturbing and horrible. Artie, delusional now, imagines Kathy is his dead wife and, well, assaults her. It's not graphic, but it is very hard to watch. Clank catches him and beats the living hell out of him before David stops him from going too far. Kathy wanders out into the field to play with the sheep, seemingly unaffected by what just happened...she's too far gone. Artie hangs himself. Before long, more soldiers show up and surround Kathy, who's gentle at first but becomes more deranged as the soldiers treat her with coldness and fear. She's finally and sadly gunned down as the sheep run past.

David and Judy escape, followed by Clank, who at first brawls with David, thinking he's trying to leave the poor schlub behind. Clank comes to his senses long enough to tell David to get Judy out of there, and stays to engage the oncoming soldiers. David and Judy get away, and Clank valiantly battles a throng of white haz-mat cannon fodder before his tragic demise.

Dr. Watts, after hours of research and failures, finally finds what could be a cure for Trixie. Overjoyed and impatient, he takes some samples with him and tries to leave the high school where the victims, infected or not, are being detained. The soldiers, in their infinite wisdom, think he's nuts and try to lock him in with the others. He gets away, but a stampede ensues and he dies in the chaos, along with the cure he found.

By the time David and Judy get to the edge of the guarded perimeter of town, Judy is showing signs of Trixie. She giggles, cries, and babbles - breaking David's heart, but he's determined to get her out of there. He builds a wall of concrete blocks around her and takes the high ground while the soldiers sweep past. Things go wrong, as David kills a couple of patrols while disguised as a soldier. Marauding townspeople begin firing on him and Judy, and Judy is hit, dying in David's arms. David kills a couple of the people, but spares the cop friend of his that claims he didn't recognize him or Judy. Could be true, but at this point, we don't know who's insane. We do know that David is immune, and he does too after an earlier discussion with Judy. Soldiers arrive again, and David goes without a fight. He's taken in, defeated yet defiant. The film ends with the reigning commander, Colonel Peckem, being airlifted out to tend to another possible Trixie breakout in Louisville.

Has the disease spread? Is this the end of the world? What becomes of the small town and its people? It leaves you to decide the answers to those questions, and that's the mark of a fine film if it's done gracefully.

The military at that point in history wasn't exactly seen as friendly or embraced since Vietnam was still fresh in the minds of the American public. Romero tended to present the military as belligerent, buffoonish, or at the most sympathetic, over-wrought and overworked. Those adjectives could describe different members of the military in the movie, and especially those that command them comfortably from armchairs far away. So, really, the military isn't the bad guy here, it's those in charge of them: the commander-bureaucrats, bewildered and constantly eating snack food.

Indelible images:

* The woman using a broom in the field after a violent uprising.

* The poor priest, immolating himself as soldiers cart away the parishoners he tries to protect.

* The old lady and her knitting needles, providing a bloody greeting to a soldier clearing her house.

* Kathy's last word, an almost enlightened, "Oh."

* Clank's sad end as a soldier's bullet finds his head and he struggles where he sits.

* The montage of soldiers invading homes, rounding up American citizens.

* Judy dying in David's arms.

* David's smirk as he hears the Army lament the fact they hadn't found an immune human yet - he knows, but out of spite, he's not talking.

Well, time to go - certainly hope that Trixie doesn't exist...we have enough problems right now with this zombie plague. Time to land the chopper again and take a break. You all be careful out there - especially you, Mr. Netflix Delivery Guy. I need my movies.

(PS - This movie is currently being remade for release in 2009.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

I've been a fan of H. P. Lovecraft's stories and mythology for some time, I have to admit. His style of writing - obviously termed "Lovecraftian" - has influenced countless writers, including yours truly. A story I once wrote for a writing class at Florida State called "To Walk Again On Wicked Ground" was directly influenced by ideas he brought forth. On a much grander scale, one can see Lovecraftian nuances in the wonderful (I think, anyway) Cloverfield. So, when I heard about the short film, The Call of Cthulhu, and how it was presented, I had to post it high on the ol' Netflix queue.

Made in 2005 and distributed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, it's filmed in black and white (a technique they call Mythoscope) with only a musical score for sound. It's based on Lovecraft's short story that bears the same name and is pretty faithful to it, with a few changes here and there. I gotta say, the changes didn't bother me all that much. I took this film as a 47-minute chunk of fun that pays respect to the source but carves out an identity of its own through its sheer imagination.

In the film, a man in an asylum relates a story to his therapist about delving into a mystery that his great-uncle investigated before dying. He traces clues that show a relation between a massive earthquake, a murderous cult, an artist's disturbing dreams, and a horrifying incident that claimed the lives of sailors on a mysterious, uncharted island. When the man reads the diary of the only man who survived the incident, a Norwegian sailor named Johanssen, the horror of what is on the edge of the world is revealed bit by bit. The ancient Old One, known as Cthulhu, had awakened and just the sheer knowledge that it's out there drives the main character mad.

That was always the hook for me in Lovecraft's fiction. What was there, but not seen. He hints at things, but rarely ever shows them. Many characters go insane just from seeing a fraction of what monsters lie on the other side of a very thin wall between dimensions. It isn't in-your-face horror. It's sneak-up-on-you-and-blow-your-mind horror. Madness and horror go a little Lovecraft and see how.


Almost scarier than that group of zombies I just saw surrounding the library downtown. Keep clear of that, if you can. Maybe they'll move on. In the meantime, I'll go land this bird and get ready to watch the next horror film in my stack, George A. Romero's 1973 film, The Crazies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Let The Right One In (2008)

So I finally landed the helicopter and got around to watching Let The Right One In, a very different and striking coming-of-age vampire film from Sweden directed by Tomas Alfredson. After the shining reviews it received from every reputable horror movie site out there, I just had to see it...and I'm glad I did.

It was a beautiful piece of work, photographed and shot in such a way that it lulls you into a sense of peace and quiet. There's no peace for our beloved protagonists, and something dark and animalistic lurks in that quiet.

A little autobiographical tidbit first: I lived in Sweden for a year as an exchange student in 1983 and 1984. I had the time of my life...learned a new language, met some great friends, and as a country boy, fell in love with a big city in Stockholm. Let The Right One In takes place in 1981, not far off from when I was there. I went through waves of nostalgia upon seeing the architecture, hearing the language, seeing the mystique that was early-80's Sweden for me.

What's it about? Meet Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a bullied 12-year-old who, despite being a gentle soul, collects grim newspaper clippings and practices knife fights on a tree. He's relentlessly bullied at school by Conny (Patrick Rydmark) and his cronies. No one is there to defend him. One night, a strange little girl (more androgynous, really) named Eli (Lina Leandersson) appears in the playground of their apartment complex. They strike up a conversation, and instantly are drawn to each other. Their mutual loneliness brings them together, more sensed than spoken. After several meetings, Eli convinces Oskar he needs to stand up strong for himself and never back down to Conny again. It's no mystery to us, the audience, at this point that Eli is a vampire. Her helper, Håkan (Per Regnar) is constantly foiled in his search for blood to feed her. Yes, he takes it (or tries to) from innocent people, but neither he nor Eli is evil. It's how she feeds, and like many vampires, she didn't choose this "un-life." Häkan dies trying to protect Eli's identity, but the pieces are in place for her to be found out. When Oskar stands up violently to Conny, the pieces are in place for Conny and his older brother to take cruel revenge. What occurs in the bathhouse during the climactic scenes is nothing short of chilling.

Let The Right One In is beautifully filmed, the Swedish winter never looking so gorgeous. The performaces out of Leandersson and Hedebrant are amazing - these two carry the film like seasoned pros. Of course, since this movie was so good on several levels, it's being remade in the United States. Yeah, I know. I wish they'd pull the brakes on "kneejerk remakes," too.

This movie is rated R here in the US of A, so please: DO YOUR RESEARCH if you think it has even an inkling of something that might offend you. In fact, that's one of my main mantras: DO YOUR RESEARCH! Horror fans know what they're getting into...newcomers to the genre, occasional dabblers, not always so much. If in doubt, look it up.

OK, no more soapbox way up here in the sky. There's a gap in the zombie horde on I-75, so watch your step through there and I'll be back on the air again soon.

(Edit: You'll have to excuse the rushed tone of this post. It was written in parts over several days, even at work...ssssh. I'll make better attempts at being more lively in the future.)