Friday, January 29, 2010

Spaced Season 1, Episode 3 "Art": The Inspiration For Shaun Of The Dead

I love Shaun Of The Dead. That's no secret. It's the perfect love letter to the Romero Living Dead film. The energy, the snappy yet unpretentious dialogue, the subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to other zombie movies -- all that provided an intoxicating mix for me. The main crew of actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright shot up the charts in my eyes.

I also love the British sitcom or "Britcom," if you will. I grew up on a steady diet of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" in high school, "The Young Ones" in college, and "Red Dwarf" and "Coupling" in recent years. When I heard the buzz around the connection of Shaun Of The Dead and a two-season cult classic called "Spaced," I had to check it out.

Thank you, Netflix. Then thank you, Amazon, for providing me with the most-viewed DVD set in my collection.

"Spaced" is the creation of Pegg, Wright, and Jessica Stevenson (née Hynes). You might remember Stevenson as Shaun's friend he occasionally runs into during the zombie apocalypse ("Good luck!"). The show itself is about two people who meet and pretend to be a couple in order to rent a sweet apartment, and the friendships they form with the other tenants and landlord. The episodes are fast-paced, snappy, and chock full of pop culture references that would test the trivia knowledge of the most hardened expert. There's a shot-for-shot nod to Pulp Fiction and the scene where Vincent Vega meets his end. The hilarious reference to The Sixth Sense even includes Olivia Williams, who played Bruce Willis' wife. So many references, you can actually choose as subtitles the "Homage-O-Meter," which literally tells you each reference on-screen. Beautiful.

Just as stated on the DVD commentary of Shaun of the Dead, the inspiration for the movie came from the third episode of the first season. The episode, "Art," begins with Tim Bisley (Pegg) dispatching classic slow-moving zombies while making Bruce Campbell-esque quips like "Come get some" or "Heads up." It is, of course, a wonderfully bloody mess. When he turns his gun on the final zombie, the truth is revealed: he's actually been playing "Resident Evil 2" all night because of some speed he got from some aggressively friendly Scots he'd been playing pool with at the pub.

The seed had been planted. A few years later, Shaun of the Dead would be born.

You can watch the clip on YouTube (sorry, can't embed it here).

The zombie references don't end there. During the course of the episode, fellow tenant and artist Brian Topp (Mark Heap) is invited to a performance by his former collaborator Vulva (a non-gender-specific straight male performance artist played deliciously by "Little Britain" co-star David Walliams). For fun, Daisy (Stevenson) pulls the still-wired Tim along for the viewing, despite Brian's protests. He's still reeling from Vulva's rejection and intends on standing up to know.

After the marathon performance, Brian confronts Vulva with little success as Tim enjoys the free drinks and Twiglets. The speed, the lack of sleep, the booze, and the fact that Twiglets "make [him] violent" causes Tim to hallucinate there are zombies everywhere. He sees Vulva moving in on Brian and thinks it's a zombie ready to bite his friend, so he punches out the arrogant artist before gathering his friends, nervously reciting some lines from "Resident Evil 2," and scurrying out of the place.

It's very clear that everyone involved with "Spaced" is a fan of horror films. Not only are there references spiced all throughout the two seasons, but the camera work often employs techniques one finds in a horror or suspense film. The soundtrack is full of clips and themes recognizable to the horror fan. The episode I've written about here includes cues from "Resident Evil 2." The penultimate episode features an homage to The Omen, complete with music.

Maybe the show itself can't be classified as horror. It's comedy, pure and simple. But there are so many influences derived from horror, I see it as a shame not to include it in my exploration of the genre.

If you have Netflix, check it out right away. Such an enjoyable series full of fanboy/fangirl moments, and it's such a well-written, well-acted, and well-directed set of episodes. Seriously, get your hands on this series, sit back, and try to pick out all the references while you laugh your arse off.

Until next time, fellow shelter citizens, remember that the undead seem to have fully functioning ears. Refrain from shouting if possible.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In The Helicopter Bay 1-27-2010: Horror Blogger Awards and Zelda Rubenstein

Just a few morsels for today while the chopper undergoes some routine maintenance:

* Over on the sidebar, I've added a list of the movies that I've reviewed for easier access. Just constantly trying to make this blog more interesting, more organized, and revenant-creating-disease-free.

* is holding its Horror Blogger Awards, for which this humble blog has been nominated. Hop on over there and cast a vote for this place, but honestly, if you enjoy another blog more, vote for them. There are some really amazing blogs also being nominated, and you can also find many of them over to the right in my blogroll section. Visit them all anyway - they're good people.

* It's my sad duty to share the news that a horror staple has passed away. Zelda Rubenstein, who is most known for her role as the psychic Tangina in 1982's Poltergeist, passed away at the age of 76 of natural causes. Who can forget this woman with a small stature but with a commanding and gentle voice? I get chills when I hear her give orders or reassure the family with confidence in Poltergeist with the line, "Now let's go get your daughter." She was pure power in that role. Check out her impressive resume here - she was in Sixteen Candles!

* Feeling chatty? Also on the right, I've added my screen names for AIM and MSN. If I decide to add any more places to chat - and I'm sure I will - I'll post 'em.

Take care of yourself, fellow survivors, and remember that when engaging hand-to-hand with zombies, fire isn't always your friend.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

5 Things That Skeeve Me Out

I'm someone who is not that easily offended or grossed out by much. I'll watch something with the intestine count of Dead Alive and suddenly remember I need to buy sausages for breakfast. Gross-out comedies don't turn my stomach unless the jokes suck.

But that's not to say I don't get skeeved out by little things. Well, little things to the rest of the normal world, but big things to me. I think everyone has a little something or a bunch of somethings that causes shivers, nausea, fright, and general "ewww" moments.

As for mine, here...take a peek:

1. Ants

What, those little things? Yeah, them. This spot used to be occupied by spiders, but after being bitten so many times by them and seeing them thin the pest herd in places I've lived, I've been more lenient on them in recent years. Still don't really want actually crawling on me and biting me, but I'm less jumpy about it now. Ants, however, are a different story. I'd never really cared for being around them since I was a kid and picked one up to check out its story and got pinchy mandibles instead. I got older and eventually moved to Florida. I recall one evening, I was pulling the infamous "Kramer pushing the gas gauge" gimmick from Seinfeld and lost the bet. After getting a little tank full of gas at a nearby station, I set about pouring it my car. I felt a little tickle around my ankles and calves, but wasn't paying much attention. Suddenly, WHAMM-O...what felt like a thousand tiny samurai swords fired into both legs. I dropped the gas can, swore in two known languages and maybe one I made up on the spot, and started with the swatting. I then found out why they're called "fire ants." It felt like I'd been torched. Fortunately, it all healed fairly quickly, but I was forever scarred on the inside. It was like one of the ants was a hardened general who shouted out the order "Alright, soldiers - BITE!" Nasty little buggers.

2. Approaching an unflushed urinal

OK, I know, this is really just an uncouth subject, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who can appreciate this. How hard is it to flush a damn urinal? The handle is right there. We all know why we use urinals, but I don't want the evidence of another's existence to remain after they leave. The restroom's already an unclean place - especially in places like sports stadiums, bars, whatever - a little common courtesy would be appreciated.

3. Socked feet rubbing against short carpet

Yeah, huh? The sound of that fabric on fabric reaches into my soul and pokes it straight in the eyes. Most people get the shivers from fingernails on blackboards, but I get the same chill from this sound. Here, just take off your shoes if you're wearing any, find some short-pile carpet, and if you're wearing socks, start scooting your feet like you're priming for a run. Yeah, that's the sound. Thanks, I'm getting the shivers now.

4. Things just under the surface of the water

I love water, and I love to swim, water ski, go boating, you name it. But if I see something just under the surface, I'm going to get creeped out. Sunken boat you can see right there below the ripples? Chills. Something you can't see, but you know is there? You know, like when you jump off a boat in the ocean and you know there might be sharks around? It's that feeling. And I've done that, too. The shark thing is pretty understandable, but something stationary? That I still don't get. I'm pretty sure the origins for this nutty thing came from when I was a kid and I saw the trailer for Shock Waves on TV. Those blasted Nazi zombie-things shuffled along - you guessed it - just under the surface of the water. Damn it, it's still creeping me out! Check out the trailer:

See where that could get into a kid's head?

5. Biting into something crunchy when the food is supposed to be soft

More than I like swimming, I love food. I love it enough that I have to discipline myself when I'm around it. don't love food that much, get yer minds outta the gutters. I always take for granted that my food has been prepared perfectly, no matter if it's Burger King or Morton's Steakhouse. That's what makes a crunchy surprise in a soft food so frustrating. Perfect example: frying up some eggs, then taking a bite only to find that a stray shard of egg shell has plopped into what was a delicious breakfast. *Crunch* After that, I'm so paranoid about more shell that I'm not thinking about how good the eggs are. Then the rest of the day is ruined. Well, at least until my next meal. But that unwanted crunch has anchored into my subconscious.

Hey, fellow zombie apocalypse survivors, I know you all have things that skeeve you out. Leave a comment, say hi, and tell me the little things that skeeve you out. Don't be shy. I mean, look at my list. Nutty.

Be safe out there.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Children (2008)

You know, I can relate to kids. I'm trained to be an elementary school teacher. I can talk to them on their level. I'm somewhat of a big kid myself, as I like video games, superheroes, and fart jokes. But in the world of horror, no one - and I mean no one - is exempt from being an antagonist wielding sharp things. With a title like The Children and a tagline like "You brought them into the world. They will take you out," it should come as no surprise who the antagonists are in this low-budget gem.

Written and directed by Tom Shankland, The Children takes place in the remote English countryside around Christmastime. One family consisting of parents Elaine and Jonah (Eva Birthistle and Stephen Campbell Moore), teenage daughter Casey (Hannah Tointon), middle daughter Miranda (Eva Sayer) and withdrawn youngest Paulie (William Howes), visits their relatives joined by the sisterhood of Elaine to Chloe (Rachel Shelley). Chloe's married to Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) and they have two tykes of their own, oldest Nicky (Jake Hathaway) and little Leah (Raffiela Brooks). There, all players are in place for the carnage to begin.

Something's not right from the start. Little Paulie is sick, and they pass it off as car sickness. He's quiet, except for banging on a small xylophone. Constantly. Knock it off, Paulie. He gets weirder as the night goes on, even slapping his own father at one point. The other kids are hyper and very much the model of yuppie children. The parents don't do much to calm them down. Casey's the lone exception, a typical pissed-at-the-world teenager. She'd rather be going to a party with her friends, but she's stuck with her relatives. The kids play loudly before settling in for sleep, but Leah coughs up some goop and like a good kid, wipes it on her pillow.

The next day, everyone's playful and no one seems to be sick. And hey, where's that cat? There's a little accident with the sled when Paulie lets it hit Chloe, who spills hot drinks all over Jonah. Jonah gets yuppie-pissy and punishes Paulie while yelling at Casey. Casey's had her fill and enters the greenhouse later to find Robbie having a smoke. There's some bizarre, slightly sexual tension going on that thankfully never goes past this scene, but there is an awkward moment when Chloe walks in and probably assumes the worst.

At dinner, Chloe takes the moment to bring up Casey's forbidden tattoo, but her plan to embarrass her niece never comes to fruition as all the kids go bonkers...crying, yelling, moaning. Like a shared hive-mind or something. Casey's had enough and goes to meet her friend, as they had planned to go to the party all along. The adults are bamboozled, but Robbie takes the kids outside to get them to burn off this weird steam. He gets on a sled, but Nicky pulls a wagon in front of him, causing him to literally get scalped by a hooky, sharpy thing. Blood, blood everywhere, staining the pure white snow. Quite an image, really. The kids freak out again - and I'm telling you, there's a lot of kid-shrieks in this movie so be prepared - and, with the exception of Miranda, bolt off into the woods.

The little tykes go from yuppie-spoiled to Children-of-the-Corn disturbing little nutbars. they cause Elaine to fall off the monkey bars, twisting and breaking her leg in the process. They cut open and insert a freakin' DOLL in the actually-still-alive Robbie's abdomen. It's obvious they did something to that cat, too. They terrorize Casey and Elaine in the greenhouse. Paulie breaks in and assaults them with scissors before being kicked back onto a sharp shard of glass. Yes, a child dies, and the only sensible one in the movie, Casey, sees this as reasonable even though it's her little brother. She's the only one that sees something is wrong with the children.

That doesn't stop Chloe from blaming Casey for all that's happened. Worse, Jonah won't take his daughter's side. Elaine is the only one to believe it all and the sides are split. Chloe takes off into the woods to find her kids while Casey barricades the doors. Panicky Chloe finds her kids - or rather her kids find her - and it's not the best reunion. Well, not for Chloe. They pull her down and stab her in the EYEBALL.

Back in the house, Miranda has crossed over to the dark side. When Casey tries to find the cordless phone, she discovers Miranda hissing and playing "Smash The Cordless Phone." Jonah arrives in the nick of time to misunderstand the situation - and Casey is trying to strangle Miranda after all. Jonah clubs Casey and locks her in the room. This supposedly brilliant guy still can't see what's happening and decides to leave Casey and Elaine, taking Miranda and putting the house in his rearview mirror.

Leah and Nicky return, getting into the house through the dog door and catch up to Elaine on the stairs leading to the room where Casey is trapped. They slowly ascend the stairs to the injured, confused, and defeated Elaine who simply mutters "I can't" when faced with a chance to use the fire poker she scooped up. Casey breaks through the door enough to grab an advancing Nicky and impaling his FACE on sharp door wood. Elaine won't let Casey kill Leah, and they leave in the remaining car.

Down the road, they find Jonah's car, swerved off the road, blood on the windshield. Casey finds Jonah's body buried in the snow, but no Miranda. Oh, wait, there she is, running full tilt at the teenager until Elaine steps on the gas and car checks her daughter into the back of the crashed car in one of the most stunningly-filmed - albeit quick - death scenes I've seen. It just looked, well, crazy.

Suddenly, creeping out of the woods, there are more kids than at a Wiggles concert. They advance slowly, knowingly. It's as if they now know they're in control...of everything. Casey barely makes it back into the car before her mom pops the clutch and leaves the murderous rugrats in the dust.

And, uh,'re looking a little rough around the edges there...

The Children is a neat little package that starts with a few clues here and there, then steamrolls towards a chilling conclusion. Those clues? When you watch the film, listen closely as to what Jonah does as a living. He helps create inoculations against diseases. It's his youngest that's sick. I assumed that he may have brought some of his work home with him. Places like the CDC and its worldwide cousins are supposed to be airtight against escaping contagions, but no one's perfect. Just ask everyone in "The Stand."

There are a few questions to think about as the movie ends, too, which I always find stimulating if it's done right. Was Casey infected or just really worn out? If the infection starts with the youngest and works its way up, will adults eventually be infected? After seeing this movie, do I still really want to be a teacher?

I was also reminded of Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows' insanely unsettling comic book series "Crossed," which features a contagion that causes people to turn utterly and completely evil in the most frantic and destructive of ways. The kids share a certain glee in the killing and sadism, much like Ennis' script has people doing. I had just read Crossed #8 right before the movie, so I was in that frame of mind.

Great little movie with some natural acting - the kids are supposed to be spoiled brats - and shots filmed in such a way that you only see quick glimpses of carnage, but the images stick to your mind like drying blood.


I'm out for now and remember, stay away from cities during the outbreak.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dod's Drive-In Double Feature: Let's Scare Jessica To Death and The Legend of Hell House

(First off, a HUGE thank-you to Chuck from Zombies DON'T Run for the sweet new header on the blog - thanks, brother!)

It wasn't exactly a brainstorm, or even a brain light shower, but it came to me this weekend that I'd been craving the old drive-in experience, which I only got to take part in while I was quite young. The drive-in culture, especially during its long boom period, has always fascinated me. Give me a colorful, art-deco facility that shines a variety of grindhouse, horror, action, and comedy made left of center any day. That said, part of my inspiration was the pair of 70's atmospheric horror offerings placed in my mailbox: Let's Scare Jessica To Death and The Legend of Hell House. Each is distinctive in its own way, and could easily be shown as a double feature back in those heady days of disco and mustaches

Let's start the festivities by scaring said Jessica to death. One statement I would like to make about this movie: Everybody in this movie was weird. And I mean everybody. Now let me add that everybody being weird in a movie is definitely a reason to like it. Why should there be any normalcy in what's happening? It's happening to poor Jessica, and that's the key right there. Sit a spell, and I'll tell you:

In what could absolutely find its origins as a campfire story, Let's Scare Jessica To Death revolves around its titular character Jessica (Zohra Lampert), a fragile young woman who has recently been released from a mental care facility. I found her to be almost child-like with that fragility, and also with the sense of wonder she possessed. She wants to be well and she really tries to find happiness in the little things.

Jessica, her husband and Harvey Pekar lookalike Duncan (Barton Heyman), and owner of a sweet 70's porn 'stache and name Woody (Kevin O'Connor) travel to New England to get a fresh start on life on the sprawling grounds of an old house. No sooner are they on the ferry when the ferryman offers some small-town deadpan weirdness. The fact that the trio drives a hearse around town doesn't endear them to the locals, especially a gang of toughs and ne'er-do-wells who...well, actually don't look a day under 90. And they're all sporting bandages.

It doesn't take long for Jessica - whose inner monologue narrates the film with a spooky, almost deep voice - to start having doubts about her sanity. She sees things, like a mysterious girl in white in a cemetery and someone just hidden from view rocking in a chair on the porch of her new house. Give her credit, though, she maintains a bit of strength. Upon exploring the house, we're treated to a true, spill-your-nachos, "bwaaah!" moment when a strange girl bursts into the room, scaring everyone. Everyone, meet Emily (Mariclare Costello), a hippy-chick who's been squatting in the house when she thought it abandoned. Resident horndog Woody is intrigued.

Emily is accepted into the makeshift family as they settle into the new place. Duncan catches a mole for Jessica to have as a pet. Yeah. You read that right. A pet mole. So wonderfully weird. But things aren't all rainbows and unicorns. Jessica begins to suspect that Duncan has a thing for Emily. The mysterious redhead does have that smoky, understated sexuality that easily drew in Woody, but might be reaching Duncan. Not only that, but Emily's getting weirder and weirder as well. She glides rather than walks, it seems. Her voice is lilting and song-like. Not only that, she looks like the daughter in this strange portrait Jessica finds in the attic, a young lady who drowned in the nearby lake and who was never found. They say she haunts the area as a vampire. Oh, those crazy backwoods myths and legends.

Jessica and Duncan finally meet a friendly face when they sell some antiques to the local dealer, who feels funny buying stuff from the place with such a reputation. Still, he's a nice enough guy. Especially after the couple is harassed by a bunch of hooligans: that same roving gang of bandaged old men. Jessica meets the friendly antique dealer again thanks to the direction of the strange girl in white, who shows her the bloody body of the man in a creek. But by the time Duncan gets there, the body's gone. The girl turns out to be real, however, but mute. She seems to be warning them, but of what?

Jessica's world seems to fall in on itself. Someone kills her mole. She notices scars on the townsfolk. She suspects something is up with Emily. She'd be on target with that one. Emily corners Jessica in the attic for some bizarre, uncomfortable conversation then invites her for a swim, despite Jessica's protests that she's afraid of the water. Rightly so, since she had a run-in with something just under the surface (I'm not the only one freaked out by that). Emily assaults her in the water, leading to that scene you see above this paragraph. Eeeeeerie.

Jessica gets away and locks herself in her room until Duncan returns. But it's not just Duncan. It's Emily, too, and that Roving Gang of Old Guys shuffling towards them in a moment that reminded me of the climax of the creepy film The Sentinel. Everyone's got scars, including Duncan. Emily seems to be leading the festivities, indicating the legend must be real. Mustn't it? Jessica escapes the property after finding Woody riding the tractor with his throat slit. The ferryman - scar and all - won't let Jessica on the ferry, forcing her into the rowboat we saw her in during the opening. Duncan tries to creep onto the boat, but Jessica pounds him with a hook before withdrawing into herself and leaving Emily and the islanders to watch her float away.

Smell ya later, Jessica.

The entire movie has that weird, David Lynchian air to it that something's not quite right, but you can't put your finger on it. Sure, you could say that Jessica is nutty as a Payday bar, but is it really that cut and dried? Just because she's narrating it and it's from her point of view doesn't mean the movie veered into the supernatural. Or maybe it does. Maybe she wasn't crazy after all. That's the beauty of it. You never, never know. It could be in her mind. It could be a real malevolent force has manipulated events from the start.

And that almost industrial score. That only added to the creepy air.

Intermission. Let's all go to the lobby.

The second feature, The Legend of Hell House, was based on a book by Richard Matheson, who is a demigod in the horror and science-fiction genres. Feast your eyes on this writing resume: several episodes of the original "Twilight Zone," I Am Legend, Stir of Echoes, Somewhere In Time (originally Bid Time Return), What Dreams May Come, and many more. So, there's some solid ground in the writing. And look: Roddy McDowall. That's all you need right there.

There's no "I" in teamwork.

The plot moves pretty quickly right off the bat. Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), a renowned physicist, is hired by a kooky old rich guy who wants proof that there is something after death. Namely, he wants proof of ghosts. What better place to conduct research than the old mansion the guy bought, the old Belasco place. Better known as Hell House. See, there'd been several investigations there, and none of them ended well. Barrett's a stuffed-shirt realist, so he cares more about the cash he'll get than the reputation of Hell House. He's saddled with a team that consists of his wife, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), a mental medium named Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and a physical medium, Ben Fischer (McDowall) who is the only survivor of a failed research team. Barrett wants to get an opportunity to use his special machine, but it isn't quite ready yet.

Weird things happen right away. Recordings play on their own, Florence can't go into the chapel, things move on their own. Barrett is attacked by something at dinner and nearly killed. Florence wants to reach out to it, and does during a seance. She takes on the voice of something in the house - not much creepier than a woman talking in low, demonic tones (thanks, The Exorcist) - and seems to connect with what might be the son of the patriarch of the house. Fischer, however, wants no part of the whole thing. He's closed his mind off and only wants to collect the money from being there.

Ann has a few naughty dreams and tries to seduce Fischer at one point, but it appears to be a surface possession. She's slapped back to reality and runs in shame, but of course her husband sees the whole scene and is none too pleased.

Later, exploring the house to find more clues to this Daniel Belasco spirit, the party finds a body chained up in a wall. They're convinced it's Daniel, so they bury his bones with a proper funeral to lay it to rest. That should do it. Wait, this movie's not 45 minutes long, is it? Nope. The voices continue, the weird ambiance still heavy in the house. Florence does battle with a possessed black cat (in a scene parodied in Scary Movie 2) which leaves her bloody and scratched. Thinking it might help - and in certain genres, I'm sure it would - Florence later allows the spirit of Daniel into her bed. Yeah, you get my drift. It doesn't really go well. Florence survives the experience, but that knowing grin spells possession.

Now, during all this, Barrett's machine arrives. As he explains it, the device is designed to absorb all the ambient energy in the house. And, as spirits are pure energy, he is confident the forces tormenting them - forces he doesn't really believe in - will be nullified. In a last ditch effort, the Daniel-possessed Florence tries to smash the machine, but is subdued. Barrett gets the machine running and Florence runs to the chapel to face the demons there. In the chaos, the huge crucifix collapses on her. Before she dies, she traces the letter "B" in blood.

Fischer, finally letting his mind open up, declares the house free. There is no more presence, so he says. It can't really be that easy, could it? You better believe it's not. Barrett is soon attacked and killed off-screen, and Fischer sports a pair and decides to face the remaining entity head-on. Let me just say that Roddy McDowall is badass here. He taunts the spirit, who we now definitely know to be the original Belasco, a perverted possible mass murderer whose ghost really doesn't like visitors.

Fischer battles the entity on a mental level, and like a budding superhero, beats the evil force back. A hidden door is found in the chapel and inside, they find Belasco himself. Well, after his taxidermist had gotten to him. A perfectly preserved body (Michael Gough in an uncredited role) is there, and Fischer figures it all out. Belasco was a stunted man who hated his lack of height, so he had his legs replaced by prosthetics to give him perceived power. The room where he sits is lead-lined, preventing Barrett's machine from reaching him in some deranged genius foresight. Leaving, Fischer activates the machine one more time to ensure the place is clean as the credits roll.

Wild camera angles, strange heavy atmospheres, odd voices. The setting is off-putting since the house's windows are bricked over and the only way you know the time of day is through the time stamp that appears as events occur. It's a Technicolor suspense horror drama perfectly made for making out at going to the drive-in. The acting is juicy without being overdone. Roddy McDowall is surprisingly understated, at least until the end. Then he cuts loose as only he can, and he's actually badass. It's a ripping good yarn with a steady pace and a creepy ambiance.

Two more things:

One charming thing I love about 70's horror movies is the way the title appears over an opening scene. No elaborate title sequences, sometimes no theme music. Just *snap* there's the title and *snap* it's gone. Examples:

I don't know. I just love it.

And the second thing was during The Legend of Hell House, as the team arrives at the Belasco mansion, I couldn't help but think of the fake trailer of Don't that aired during Grindhouse and was directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead). The rest of the movie had elements that may have inspired Wright's fake trailer, but when they first arrive at the gate in the fog, it reminded me of Wright's version.

So as I go, please enjoy the fake trailer so you can spot the references when you watch The Legend of Hell House. Thanks for reading and don't let the moaning of the undead get to you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In The Helicopter Bay for January 14

Hey, it's Thursday the 14th, which doesn't quite have the ominous ring of Friday the 13th. I'm going to park the chopper for a night and talk about various things in a kind of this-and-that blog tonight:

* First off, my good buddy Chuck Conry of Zombies DON'T Run has given me an All-Scares Award over at his blog along with some very kind words. As the creator of the award, he also gave out awards to some other blogs that I also hold in extremely high regard. Go check it out and then go check out the blogs he listed. Guarantee you won't be sorry. And thanks, Chuck! Our tag-team just needs a couple wins and we'll be on our way to championship gold! Now, I'm required to pass this award along to two other blogs - and I confess that I don't like leaving anyone out, but Chuck did pass the award along to blogs I would've chosen anyway. The two I shall pick - and it will pain me if I leave anyone out, but I'm sure there will be other awards to hand out down the line - are the following:

---> The Horror Crypt - I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bloofer Lady writes one of the most honest, unflinching blogs out there. She's not afraid to tell it like it is and challenges all of us to use our minds. I can always appreciate that and she has my respect at all times.

---> The Paradise of Horror - Rick is one of the most knowledgeable people I've run across when it comes to the ins and outs of film - he's literally a student of the game. He earned a huge thumbs-up from me for also sharing in the Stephen King love.

Now, Bloofer & Rick, the rules set forth by Chuck indicate you cannot pass the award along after receiving it as he would like the distribution to be limited.

* I'm working on a couple non-review blogs that I hope will keep the Helicopter fresh. One will be about one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and the horror references that are contained therein. Stay tuned to find out what show it is and what references I'm talking about. It's fun for me at least - I get to rewatch all the episodes. Another will focus on some photography I did. I'm not a professional by ANY stretch of the imagination, but I'd love to share some pictures I've taken in recent years.

* In terms of real-life horror, my heart goes out to the people of Haiti. No matter what that doddering old hateful televangelist says, they did not deserve this.

* I will be adding more blogs to the list over there on the right. I've been discovering more each week, and feel I must spread the love.

* To those of you following me here on Blogger, voting my stories up on HorrorBlips, showing support, and even just saying hello: Thank you very much, and I mean it!

* Just for fun, here's me backstage in 2003 at a wrestling show I helped with in Michigan with horror-themed wrestler Gangrel and his then-wife Luna Vachon:

Scary, yeah? And they look scary as well. But I kid...myself. Thank you, good night, I'll be here all week! Enjoy the buffet!

Until next time, my friends, stay safe and don't let the bites break the skin.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Cave (2005) - I Was Due For A Snoozer

After white-knuckling it through four amazing French extreme films where the bar for cinematic tension was raised to new levels for me, I knew the adrenaline high wouldn't last forever. I was due for a rest stop, the movie equivalent of a light snooze, and with 2005's The Cave, I found it.

I'm not entirely sure why I wanted to see this movie, really. It might have been for (unfair) comparisons to The Descent, which is similar in that it takes place in a cave and there is pursuit by ugly little things. It might have been the fact that the idea of being trapped underground - or worse in an underground body of water - is truly frightening to me on levels I can't imagine. It might have been the fact that Piper Perabo is in the movie, and that was all I needed.

She's in this movie? Fine, I'll give it a chance.

I'll address those right now: The Descent is the superior movie between these, and they really shouldn't be compared as they're two different films altogether...I'll mention my total letdown in the tension department later...and yes, Piper Perabo played a major part in my choosing this movie. There, I admit it.

The Cave was directed by Bruce Hunt and has admittedly what I thought would be a great cast: Cole Hauser (Dazed and Confused), Morris Chestnut (the recent "V" remake), Eddie Cibrian ("CSI: Miami"), Daniel Dae Kim ("Lost"), and the aforementioned Miss Perabo (Coyote Ugly) among others. It was an interesting cast, and I thought there would be some diverse acting styles and dialogue, but...I don't know.

The plot is pretty basic: group goes into cave, gets trapped, picked off one by one by darkness-dwelling creatures. Thank you, good night! Remember to tip your waiters and waitresses.

That said, the recap might be a bit short so maybe I'll spice it up. To start, we're treated to a prologue which sees a group of cavers in the Carpathian Mountains enter an old abbey to explore the cave network below it. Well, less enter than blow a hole in the floor that swallows them up. Oh, and sets of an avalanche from the mountain behind the abbey, which obliterates the church. I guess one of the things this expedition forgot was a demolition expert. That's "expert."

Cut ahead about 30 years and your typical old college professor Dr. Nicolai (Vlad Radescu) along with his associate Kathryn (Lena Headey) explore the site as they are among a group of scientists who believe there's an entirely undiscovered ecosystem in the vast network of caves. They hire Jack and his crack team of battle-hardened superheroes. Okay, well, they're not superheroes, and they're not really battle-hardened. In fact, they are all quite pretty. For a roll call, we've got leader Jack (Hauser), his brother the hot-headed Tyler (Cibrian), rock climber Charlie (Perabo), survival guy Top (Chestnut), scout Briggs (Rick Ravanello), and sonar mapper Strode (Kieran Darcy-Smith). The final piece in the cannon fodder puzzle is photographer Alex (Dae Kim). They're confident and excited to head into the cave system. I mean, wouldn't you be if it was as WELL LIT as this one was? Sigh.

Piper is concerned that I have mentioned her far too often in this blog.

Well, anyway, Briggs scouts ahead, finds them a second base camp and encounters some of the local wildlife: a fearsome naked mole that looks like a scab with legs. Maybe "fearsome" is not the word. Let's try "adorable." Communications cut off and everyone is worried that the moles have, I don't know, tickled Briggs to death. They set off to the new base camp. On the way there, group genius Strode is distracted by some underwater creature that snakes by him. I've seen pictures of moray eels. I don't want to chase one under a mile of rock in some subterranean death trap. Thankfully, these tunnels are so WELL LIT. Strode surfaces to find half-eaten cave moles and another larger, toothier creature which decides he is more the cut of meat it wants. In his dying throes, Strode manages to let his whatever-they're-called, water scooter, loose to crash and explode against the cave walls. The resulting rockslide effectively traps the party.

Looking for a way out, Jack encounters a nest full of albino scorpions (which were actually pretty badass) and another of the bigger, meaner creatures. He manages to escape, but he's scratched up pretty badly. Now they know they're up against something the Knights Templar apparently battled centuries ago, according to local legend. Supposedly demons, but some scientific research tells a different story. Kathryn discovers an aggressive parasite on the claw Jack cut off his attacker, and also on some regular ol' wildlife. As they search for a way out, Jack is feeling the effects of the scratches: he's erratic, his senses are kicked up a notch. He's...changing. In one of the few cool touches of the movie, his pupils take on a star-like shape. Kathryn gets it: he's changing into one of the creatures. They aren't simply evolved monsters. They're the previous expedition! "How?" you ask, so anxiously I can sense it. Simple: it's the parasite. It mutates living things to adapt rapidly to living in any environment. Wow, I hope these things don't get out of their WELL LIT home.

On their way down a keen water slide to another underwater lake, Dr. Nicolai gets hung up on some rocks. The guy can't even body surf down a water slide, for crying out loud. He's like some kid getting stuck on the carpet slide at the local fair. Two things I kept waiting for during the water slide scene: a sad trombone for Dr. Nicolai and One-Eyed Willie's ship from The Goonies at the bottom. I was deprived of both.

Nicolai finally tumbles to the bottom somehow, and is immediately set on by a demon-thing with a tattoo, confirming that this is the expedition from the beginning. Jack tries to save him, but to no avail. They get to dry land and decide the best way out is up a sheer cliff. The team's not trusting Jack since he's acting a bit too dodgy. Charlie takes it upon herself to climb since she is, after all, the best climber of the bunch.

Aw, crap.

At the top, she encounters one of the creatures and it attacks, but she manages to tumble out and down before saving herself. In one of the more badass scenes of the movie - and not because of my obvious Piper Perabo bias - Charlie makes like Batgirl and holds her own against the flying monstrosity. She even manages to set it on fire, but only at the cost of her own life. What? I was outraged - how dare they do...then I realized it was a movie, and paused it so I could get a Pepsi.

Charlie's death pisses off the team, and the trust in Jack is split. Jack, Tyler, and Top head off to find a sure way out. They gracefully (sarcasm intended) make their way down an ice vein which leads to a room full of methane fire fountains and sharp rocks. It looks like Hell, so I think this was supposed to be symbolism, but I can't be sure. An attempt at symbolism, maybe. The rest of the team joins them, sort of. Briggs is captured and impaled on some rocks while Kathryn and Alex make it to the methane fart cave. During the final battle, Alex is caught and eaten but we know he'll be back on February 2 with the season premiere of "Lost" on ABC. Check your local listings.

In order to help the others get out, Jack climbs a rock column to retrieve a rebreather the creatures stole. He's pretty far gone at this point, but manages to hold off the creatures while the others escape. Tyler, Top, and Kathryn are the only ones to make it back out into the fresh air.

Cut forward a few days, I guess, it's not really clear. Kathryn warns Tyler that the parasite may not just adapt to underground life, but life anywhere. She smooches Tyler, then reveals that her eyes have that same star pattern Jack's had. When realization hits Tyler, he pursues her, but Kathryn disappears into the crowd. The film ended, and I felt nothing.

That was the problem: I felt nothing. With the recent slew of beautifully intense films, this film was just the opposite. Never once did I feel that sense of claustrophobic dread of being trapped underground. The caves were too spacious and too...sing it with me...WELL LIT. There is no sunlight down there, and how are their flashlights and flares so able to create such a romantic ambiance? It should look like the geological version of [REC] down there. The tunnel scene in Frontier(s) was infinitely more intense and frightening than anything in The Cave. The dialogue and script was so minimal and straightforward, it allowed for little emotion and too much deadpanning of language. People should be freaking out, but there was an abundance of macho posturing. It wasn't intense, it wasn't scary, and I wasn't convinced I should care.

That said, I didn't hate this movie. Really, I didn't. It was just very easy to pull a Mystery Science Theater 3000 with this one, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Maybe next time I expect one to be not quite as good as others, I'll live-Tweet it. Could be fun if people want to read that.

Thanks for reading, and to those voting my blog up and following this blog on Google, I'm glad you're along for the ride and a big thanks for the support. You make it fun.

OK, back to the shelter - remember, that hungry, gnawing thing outside your door isn't who you think it is anymore.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

À l'intérieur (aka Inside) (2007) - Um...Whoa

Of the four French extreme movies recommended to me by my dear friend Andre from The Horror Digest, À l'intérieur (aka Inside) was the only one that arrived to me with a reputation preceding it. I had read various accounts of the most steel-stomached viewer feeling an urp of queasiness upon watching certain scenes of this movie. I'd better dollars to raspberry jelly-filled donuts I know which scenes they spoke of after watching it. I had that fluttery anxiety to see things unfold and it reminded me of that same feeling arising when I first viewed movies like The Thing and The Exorcist, where my own subconscious had built up a reputation for each of those films.

Inside is, as I mentioned earlier, a French film and has many of the elements of the other French extreme films I reviewed. I'll get into some of those similarities later, but right now, let's get the introductions out of the way and dive right into the review:

Remember: Possible spoilers abound!

Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, it takes place mostly around Christmas Eve in a Paris suburb. We're given a setup as the movie begins, right in the womb where a baby rests comfortably until the screeching of tires and a horrifying crash. The baby hits its head and blood fills the amniotic sac. In the outside world, we tragically meet pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) and her husband, Matthieu (Jean-Baptiste Tabourin). There has indeed been a horrible accident, and its claimed the life of Matthieu.

Flash forward four months, and Sarah is still bearing the physical scars of the accident. The mental scars run so much deeper, it's not even funny. Sarah has become anti-social and withdrawn (although that creepy nurse would drive me into a shell, too). Her mother Louise (Nathalie Roussel) wants her to be with family on the holiday, and everyone including her boss, Jean-Pierre (François-Régis Marchasson), only want the best for her during what has to be an insanely difficult time. Sarah just wants to be left alone with her photography and fantasies of Matthieu still being alive. Nice creepy/romantic scene when she imagines his embrace, and his hands slowly glide across her pregnant belly before she's snapped back to reality by the doorbell.

If there was ever a moment in film where you wanted to yell out "don't answer that door!," this would be it. On the porch, in the shadows, is a mysterious figure. A woman with a rather deep voice begging to use the phone as her car has broken down. Sarah's wary, and lies to the woman, saying her husband is asleep and doesn't want to wake him. The woman (Béatrice Dalle) suddenly knows Sarah by name, and knows that Matthieu is dead. She still demands to be let in. Freaked, Sarah tries to snap some pictures of the woman through a kitchen window, but only gets a faint shot of her face. The police arrive to find nothing, promising to check in on Sarah every so often.

Sarah develops the film, including shots from the park earlier that day and actually sees the woman stalking her in one of them. It's sinking in that this is really serious now. Exhausted and sure the woman is gone, Sarah goes to bed. This is where we see more of the mysterious, unnamed woman as she pads through the house, collecting various items like alcohol and scissors. Yeah, sharp objects. Pregnant woman. Insane lady. This does not add up to a desirable situation for Sarah. As you might think would happen, The Woman attempts a C-section right there in the bedroom. She gets as far as the scissors entering the belly button before Sarah is shocked awake and manages to escape to the bathroom.

The Woman is, yes, certifiable. She makes it clear that she wants Sarah's baby, and it's pretty damn obvious that she'll do anything to get it. The Woman finds her plan isn't perfect, though, as Jean-Pierre shows up to check on Sarah. Meeting him downstairs, The Woman leads him to believe she is Sarah's mother and brings him a drink. Then, like a Three's Company episode broadcast in Hell, Sarah's real mother shows up, demanding to know where her daughter is and who The Woman is. Louise heads up the stairs to find her daughter, but a case of mistaken identity causes a spike to find its way into Louise's neck. Sarah has accidentally killed her own mother. That on top of everything else - the side kicks to the emotional center of Sarah's brain are relentless.

Jean-Pierre dashes up the stairs to see what's causing the commotion and finds a bloody Sarah pleading for help. Her, and the blood-soaked body of Louise. Before Jean-Pierre can react, The Woman stabs him behind each knee, in the nether regions, and repeated in the face before slashing his throat. This woman is...a little off. Jean-Pierre isn't quite dead yet, but a pillow on the face and one random stab there is all it takes. Surely the body count can't rise any more, right?

Here come the police, with a recent teenage arrest in tow, to check on Sarah, just as promised. Two of them talk with The Woman, but they aren't convinced - Sarah's pregnant, The Woman is not. One heads up the stairs to find Louise and the splashes of blood, then tells the other to arrest The Woman. She's prepared though, and shoves a knitting needle into the cop's eye before taking his gun. The upstairs cop finds Sarah - or rather her left arm, impaled by the hand to the wall by a pair of scissors. He frees her and before he can do much of anything, half his head is blown away by The Woman, who keeps firing at the bathroom door. The cop outside hears it and drags his teenage prisoner in to investigate. They discover Sarah huddled in the blood-painted bathroom and it looks like maybe, just maybe, Sarah could get out of this. Then the lights go out. The cop tells Sarah to go to the bedroom and wait there while he and Abdel try to fix the lights. That doesn't go so swimmingly, as The Woman shoots the last cop in the head, then stabs Abdel in the forehead with the scissors.

When Sarah makes her way down the stairs, she discovers the bodies of...well, pretty much everyone. Scooping up a knitting needle, she confronts The Woman, but this time with her own twist. She aims the needle at her own belly, threatening the child this crazed lady wants so badly. Still unrelenting, The Woman brains Sarah with a toaster before crouching down to light up a gloating cigarette. Sarah's not down yet, and in a scene that actually had me cheering out loud, she sprays The Woman with oven cleaner just as she lights up. Fireball to the face! With most of her hair on fire and half her face scorched beyond recognition, The Woman retreats while Sarah gives herself an impromptu tracheotomy (which provided a real eww moment with blood bubbles). She then fashions a crude spear and searches for her assailant.

The Woman cowers in a closet and as Sarah's about to deliver the killing blow, all the cards are set on the table. Turns out The Woman does have a connection to Sarah: she was in the other car in the accident. It was her baby we saw at the beginning of the movie, and it did not survive the accident. The Woman wants Sarah's baby to make up some kind of twisted settlement in her fevered brain.

Suddenly, the lights come back on. At the junction box is the last policeman assaulted by The Woman, his stance wavering. How he's alive after being shot in the head is anyone's guess. When Sarah tries to talk to him, his confused state of mind confuses her for The Woman and he attacks her, hitting her in the stomach with a baton. He's enraged and almost demonic...I mean, look at his eyes when you see this. Also, look at the address of the house: don't know the street name, but the number is 666. Was there a secret subtext there, I wonder? From out of the blue, The Woman actually rescues Sarah, or actually the baby, by stabbing the policeman to death with the homemade spear.

Sarah's in labor, though, and The Woman calmly performs the C-section she set out to do earlier. The camera does not shy away. I mean, you are made to stare directly at Sarah's belly as The Woman does what she can to open it up and reach inside to deliver the baby. The last shots are of a defeated and dead Sarah lying on the stairs, as the scarred Woman settles into a chair with the baby, alive and presumably well. Fade to black.


There are a lot of constants in these French extreme films, not the least of which is a strong female lead. Not only is she usually a great actress on the real life end of things, but the character has to have some otherworldly resolve. There is also a conservation of cast members. With the exception of Frontier(s), the casts of these films I've enjoyed have been fairly small. It lends itself to the next area I found to be constant, the visceral emotions that really make up the genre's definition. Feelings of being trapped, being pursued with no routes for escape, the loss of dignity and personal power (see: hair cutting). Add to that this basic but powerful basis for fear: pregnant woman assaulted by psychotic with sharp instruments. Pregnant belly. Sharp. See, no matter what, those two phrases do not go together. Like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho capitalized on the visceral fear of naked vulnerability in the shower scene, this film takes those phrases and forces them together with disturbing results.

So, yeah, the reputation of this movie was well-deserved. If you think there might be just a little blood in this movie, you're severely underestimating it. Hell, the title credits are set against a swirling bloody background. This film tells you to leave your stomach at the door because you may lose it before it's over. But if you want something intense and just a tad over-the-top, definitely introduce it to your DVD player.

I know I'll be studying the shadows a little closer...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Feeling The Horror Blogosphere Love

When I started this thing back in March of 2009, I thought I'd write a few thoughts about a genre that I love and that has affected me my entire life. Something about a movie here, a comic there. I had no idea that my blog would start to get some notice - even though I hoped it would. I really had no idea I'd be given awards from my peers. And I really had no idea I would make the friends I have in the past months.

I jumped onto the 'net today in a "eh" kind of mood to find two awards waiting for me, and from more than two fellow bloggers. It was like they pointed both fingers at me with a devil-may-care grin, winked, and said, "you rock." And no one's ever done that to me before!

First, I received one called The One Lovely Blog Award from my good friend Chuck Conry, the owner of the fantastic horror blog Zombies DON'T Run. I'll be heaping more praise on Chuck later in this entry, but for this I thank him. I absolutely appreciate it, Chuck! Part of receiving the award says I can give it to 15 other bloggers. I read a lot of great blogs, so it's not easy to pare it down to 15, but here's my list:

Buy Zombie
Chuck Norris Ate My Baby
Day Of The Woman
Gravestomper's Blog
Horror Crypt
Musings Across A Continuum
The Horror Digest
The Paradise of Horror
The Vault Of Horror
Zombies DON'T Run
Scare Sarah
The Sexy Armpit
Jim Hall's Random Musings

Now, not all of those are horror. For example, the last one is one from a dear friend who I've long considered an older brother (since I'm the oldest sibling in mine). They are all blogs I enjoy reading, though, and you just might as well.

Now, the second one I received is the Kreativ Blogger Award, given to me by three very fine people: the aforementioned awesome Mr. Conry, the great Matt-suzaka of Chuck Norris Ate My Baby, and the wonderful Andre Dumas of The Horror Digest. This award comes with a nice little meme to fill out, so let's get that underway:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

1. To Chuck, Matt, and Andre: thank you SO much for recognizing The WGON Helicopter in your blogs. It really is an honor that you - more experienced bloggers whose own blogs I love - have brought me into the horror blogging family so kindly.

2. Already over there, to the right ----->

3. Scroll back up a bit and you'll find the links to all three of these folks, or scroll down 'cause the links'll be there, too.

4. Seven things you might find interesting about me? Hmmm.....:

--I was an exchange student to Sweden in high school. My Swedish is very rusty, though, as it was a looooong time ago.

--I worked at Disney World for three years as an attractions host. Pay was not great, but the social experience (read: parties, dating, etc.) were tremendous.

--In a stretch between 2002 and 2007 (then once in 2009), I was a commentator for independent professional wrestling in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Windsor, Ontario. I worked mainly with Scott D'Amore's Border City Wrestling, and got to call some amazing matches. Also got to do sit-down interviews with Bret Hart and Bobby Heenan, among others. So, yes, I am a professional wrestling fan.

--I could name all the United States when I was a year and a half old, and could recognize them by shape.

--My first published writing was at the age of 14 when I reported for a little paper called "Michigan Skiier," and it was about the Winter Special Olympics. My English teacher was the publisher.

--From 8 to 16, I trained in tae kwon do, achieving the rank of black stripe. One of many things I never finished :(

--I love baseball. LOVE it. I'm a huge Philadelphia Phillies fan, and have been for most of my life. Yes, I was heartbroken when they lost the World Series last year.

--I collect comics, and it's been my sincere dream for years to write one.

5. & 6. Here are my nominations:

* Kindertrauma - Really, this site is awesome. They have tapped into my - and many others' - childhood psyche and bring what lurks there to light. Every time I go there, I spend more time than I should browsing all the great memories I share with so many other folks who love to be a little scared by what they saw as kids.

* Chuck Norris Ate My Baby - Matt-suzaka owns this blog, which may have the coolest name of any blog. With a title like that, it's got to be good...and it is. Matt's got great, intelligent insight into the genre and writes with a hilarious sense of humor. Plus, he always writes such great comments on my blog.

* Horror Crypt - Bloofer Lady is a blast to read. She isn't afraid to tell it like it is, and I have the utmost respect for her. She's always incredibly nice, is very funny, and owns her style of writing. You need to check out her blog immediately!

* Screamstress - Alison writes and reports on areas of horror from television to movies to art and everything in between and beyond. Like many of the people I respect out there, she's filled with intelligence and love of the genre. Plus, she always has a kind word when I'm feeling stressed out.

* The Horror Digest - Andre is easily one of my favorite people, not to mention favorite blogs. She's an absolute blast to talk with about everything from horror films to underwater things that scare us. When I searched for a fresh subgenre to obsess over, she introduced me to French extreme. She hasn't steered me wrong yet. Her blog is fresh and funny, and has the wonderful Way To Go Moments. Trust me: Read. Her. Blog.

* The Vault of Horror - B-Sol owns the end-all, be-all of horror blogs: informative, creative, funny, and at the forefront of the horror blogosphere in many ways. It was one of the first I started reading when I immersed myself in this world, and I've never been sorry. Plus, he's involved in professional wrestling, so that's a plus!

* Zombies DON'T Run - Chuck Conry is my brother from another mother. He and I could probably chat all night about a great many things, not the least of which is horror. His blog is hilarious, smart, and informative - always a smashing read. Chuck is also my wrestling tag-team partner (if we had actually been trained) in The Murder Victims. We always lose.

And there you go. All those people and blogs I mentioned above are ones you should be checking out if you're not already. I don't want to discount any of the others on my sidebar's list. Really. Check them all out. I wouldn't list them there if I didn't think they were worth it.

I really appreciate the consideration from everyone who mentioned me, and the support I've received from my friends here who have offered everything from movie recommendations to a kind word to simply joking around. You've made this experience unforgettable.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sleepaway Camp (1983) or The Movie That I Watched Over Two Years

OK, so I couldn't resist using that old chestnut of a joke in the title. It didn't really take me long to watch the movie, but I started it in the last throes of 2009 and finished it at the end of New Years Day, 2010. It's an old joke, and not a good one, so let's not dwell on that, shall we?

I'm a child of the 80's, that much has always been evident. My formative years were spent in a neon and day-glo haze, as I railed against preppies and cherished my toaster-sized Walkman with its tape of Asia's first album. The 80's were a great time to experience horror films, especially in the slasher genre. Those types of movies exploded so fast and furious, they eventually became parodies of themselves. But mixed in among that slew of films that came out, with their increasingly creative ways of offing the cannon fodder, there were some real classics and some real memorable pieces of work.

WARNING: Spoilers lurk ahead, especially towards the end.

Sleepaway Camp was one of those memorable pieces of work. It never really seems serious, but has a shocking undertone. It's a little like Meatballs done as a juicy murder mystery with a twist. Directed by Robert Hiltzik, it's a great mirror into my past...only without the murder, psychosis, and by GOD I didn't wear those shorts. Honest. Except for gym class. Damn it, didn't want to admit that.

The movie begins with a prologue, standard in its way for horror films as it sets up our premise. A horrible boating accident caused by inattentive, dumbass teenagers takes the lives of two innocent people, one a child. The other child in the boat is sent to live with relatives, including cousin Ricky and his ultra-kooky mom, Martha.

Flash forward eight years, and Martha is sending off Ricky and Angela to camp. Angela is quiet and reserved, to the point of practically being a statue. Ricky is fiercely defensive of Angela and is constantly there to protect her, no matter the size or number of antagonists. It doesn't take long for trouble to start when Angela is cornered by the creepiest cook in all of moviedom, Artie. Artie's soliloquy about the incoming young girls at the camp is enough to make you want to sandpaper your mind. Not long after Ricky rescues Angela, someone forces a pot of boiling liquid and Artie to meet, sending the massive creep off to the hospital with massive injuries. Camp owner Mel gets the staff to keep the incident quiet, and camp goes on as normal in the 80's.

Just two All-American kids. No problems here, right?

At a social event later in the day, and after Ricky and his fellow younger campers had won a baseball game against the meaner older kids, Angela is again accosted by some of those same older kids. She's quiet, staring with big dark eyes, and never fights back. Ricky defends her, getting into a fight, which is quickly broken up. Ricky's buddy Paul, a seemingly decent kid, takes a shine to Angela and actually breaks through her wall a little just by being an OK guy.

During some camp shenanigans, a douchebag camper named Kenny lures a girl out onto the lake on his canoe. His real canoe, that wasn't a euphemism. After some horseplay, the canoe tips and the girl swims to shore. Kenny pops up under the overturned boat and finds he's not alone. Whoever it is shoves him under the water, drowning him. Mel's really starting to stress at this point, but he thinks he's got it under control.

Later, after Angela is pelted with water balloons, Ricky goes ballistic and lets loose with a tirade against the leader of the boy bullies, Billy. Billy later has an unfortunate bathroom experience when someone locks him in the stall and drops a bee's nest into it. Those must have been some fierce bees, as Billy is given the dreaded WICKER MAN REMAKE FACE O' BEES.

Mel starts to lose his shit, and is pretty sure that Ricky is the one behind the murders, since they're connected to the bullying of Angela. Meanwhile, Angela and Paul grow a little closer and he starts making moves on her, hoping for a little make-out session on the beach. Ah, those romantic 80's. Angela freaks out during a memory of her father and his gay lover, and runs away, which confuses the pseudo-nice guy. The next day, camp trollop Judy successfully gets a kiss out of Paul in front of Angela, which sends the poor girl running again. Paul's pissed at himself as well as Judy, and tries to apologize repeatedly to Angela. No sooner does he leave the scene when Judy and Meg really tear into Angela, eventually throwing her in the lake. Mel confronts Ricky, who's frantic to save Angela. He helps her, but by now, even the little kids are throwing sand at the poor, quiet girl. Ricky swears vengeance. Vengeance, I tell you.

Meg, after making a Creepy Date with Mel, hops in the shower in a nearby empty cabin. Yeah, that's always a formula for success in a slasher film. Sure enough, here comes someone with a knife, who slices a deep line right down Meg's back. Guess no date with Mel.

Later, at another dance, Paul tries again to reconcile with Angela. She tells him to meet her at the beach, and Paul is excited. Meanwhile, in another part of the camp, the little kids are attempting to have a night in the woods, but a couple of them can't handle the big, bad outdoors and want to go back. When the counselor returns to the campsite, he finds the ones left behind filleted in their sleeping bags. And let's not forget Judy, who dies a death by curling iron. It is implied that said curling iron is introduced to a body part better left unsaid. Ouch.

Meg's body is found, and Mel goes off the deep end. He pulls Ricky into the woods and bludgeons him into oblivion, leaving him for dead. Right about then, the real killer finds Mel and fires an arrow into his Adam's apple. There, now Mel can drool over Meg in the afterlife, if there's a special room there for creeps.

Oblivious to the danger, Paul finally meets Angela on the beach. She's really opening up now, telling him she's ready to go swimming, which is a pretty big step given her fear of the water. Angela tells Paul to remove his clothing, which is the greenest of lights to the adolescent male.

The camp's in a tizzy now with bodies coming out the faded woodwork. The search for others goes into the woods and to the beach, where two counselors find Angela, rocking back and forth and humming a sweet little tune. Paul's head is in her lap. Literally. Paul's head is in her lap. Here, we're treated to a flashback. Turns out this isn't really an's Peter, who survived the boat accident at the beginning. Aforementioned kook-on-wheels Martha decided she didn't want to raise another boy, so made Peter into Angela, her new "daughter."

Lady, you're not helping things.

Angela finally stands and reveals full, unseeable glory. The expression on Angela/Peter's face is so wonderfully disturbing, that will actually haunt you more than the full body shot, trust me.

Well, there go any dreams of unicorns and rainbows tonight.

Sleepaway Camp is over-the-top glee that approaches parody, but doesn't quite cross over into that territory. That's a fine line to walk. Felissa Rose is, I think, brilliant as Angela. At one point, bully Meg is practically driven to hysterics because Angela won't respond to her needling. Angela just...stares. Big, dark eyes just unwavering. Every emotion is subtle from the introversion to the brink of madness and beyond. Well done, Felissa, well done. I'm glad to know she's still very active, as shown on her website.

80's slashers were a special breed. Special enough to deserve its own genre label. This movie was a trip - every line was delivered with such relish. I'd call it overacting, but hell, you can't blame them. It seemed like the cast was having a good time.

And how could you not in those shorts?