Monday, June 22, 2009

Eden Lake

Never judge a horror film by its Production Company.

Over the past few years the subsidiary of Miramax Films known as Dimension Extreme has been pumping out so many horror movies it would be close to impossible to keep up with all of them, not to mention that most of them are so atrociously shitty they aren't worth even a horror movie enthusiasts' time. Although, the French horror movie Inside is a notable exception to the shittiness of the Dimension canon.

Eden Lake managed to make me literally sit up in my chair and say, "Yikes" about 5 different times while watching it early this morning. Now, that isn't necessarily an accurate or objective yardstick for horror film assessment, but couple those pleasantly ghastly jolts with a twisted (even if you could see it coming) ending and you have a nasty bastard of a horror movie that manages to be much better than it ever should be considering its premise: A couple goes camping by a lake in the English countryside and manages to incite the ire of a group of (melodramatically) sadistic teenagers.

Sounds dumb right? Right. And honestly, it is dumb. Even those pictures look obnoxious in a Jonas Brothers meets Hostel kind of way....

However, what makes this movie watchable, and maybe even good, is its willingness to transcend the limitations of its own cliched premise to push a couple boundaries in what types of violence can or should tastefully be inflicted on, or by, children in a horror flick. Having melodramatically evil kids stabbing tied-up campers is tired. yawn. Having melodramatically evil kids burn another kid alive. yikes. Having a protagonist stab one of the only sympathetic kids in the side of the windpipe with a makeshit broken-glass knife as the camera lingers, slowly pulling back watching fixated on the kid's struggle and wheeze, legs in full death-tremor as she holds him, crying. Add to the mix that the opening exposition establishes her as a cutesy elementary teacher and we have a twist of fate that, yes, may be a little too conveniently ironic, but it's also a touch that movies like this normally miss.

This is not the Village of the Damned or Children of the Corn style of evil kids torturing adults, mostly because this movie doesn't drift away into the supernatural. No, these kids are real. These are mediated versions of media-saturated Columbine kids, snapping cell phone pics and keeping in contact while tracking via text-messages. The movie (rightfully) never dwells on this point, but it's implied in a way that never comes across as too condescending or heavy-handed for a B-horror schlockfest like Eden Lake.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


*edit: some of my pics have been taken down, but I'll fix it later.

Fear not, gorehounds. Maintain your distanced intellectualized cool, you, yes you, raging craptastic horror-watching rapscallions. I've witnessed The Glory of Grindhouse. Its name is Pieces (1982), a Spanish slasher flick that happens to be one of the most joyful film experiences a horror movie geek like myself could ask for this holiday season (hint hint Christmas shoppers!)

First of all, if the word "grindhouse" causes you to throw up a little bit in your mouth because of all the dipshits throwing the word around ("Grindhouse this, suckas!"), and the DVD marketing departments rereleasing every crappy B-movie and calling it "Grindhouse" because of the Tarantino/Rodriguez movie, then you are indeed a good person. You have a place here. This is not to say that legitimate (and I do the legitmating 'round here, sonny) Grindhouse stuff does not have a special place in my nerdy little soul.

While this post is not about constructing borders and categorizing and excluding , let's just say a grindhouse is a motherfucking theater that shows exploitation movies, although it is sometimes used (by dipshits) interchangably with the term "exploitation" as a way to label a certain genre. For Pieces Grindhouse is the name of the production company (Grindhouse Releasing, is the name, technically) that released the movie. So to be clear when I use the term I am referring to a production company, one that is responsible for gems like An American Hippie in Israel, Cannibal Holocaust, I Drink Your Blood, and The Beyond.

Now, I know I'm not the first person to reflect on the glory of Pieces. Recently a 2-disc special edition was rereleased (I guess I'm implying they usually don't give a 2-disc special edition release to utter crap but I can think of about 30 examples right off the bat to counter that so, um, yeah fuck off or something), and rumor has it self-confessed horror-geek/director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever (yay!) and Hostel 1& 2 (blech!)) LOVES LOVES this movie. His faux-trailer for Grindhouse, Thanksgiving, takes a lot of direct visual cues from Pieces although one could argue Thanksgiving is more accurately described as a direct send-up of the genre as a whole. For a great non-answer to the question of how to distinguish between an homage and a spoof, see my post on Return of the Living Dead. But I digress, like my ass likes to do...

Actually titled: Mil gritos tiene la noche (translates to, I think, The Night has a Thousand Cries, thanks, Babelfish) Pieces never strays much from the familiar slasher conventions: an unknown killer terrorizing young girls on a college campus, an extraordinary number of bare breasts, chainsaws, 70s-era grainy film stock with endless pops and blips, melodrama, exaggerated gore, a cigar-chomping squinting gruff local sheriff, a wily groundskeeper with a dark secret, a random "kung-fu" attack, a nerdy kid, a tennis-pro, a distant professor with a radical stache, a waterbed, and the gee-whiz green-around-the-ears college kid hanging around the cops.

The "You Don't Have to Go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre" tagline reads like an advertising hook crafted by the horror Gods and handed down to me personally.

Here's the opening sequence of the movie (I couldn't find a dubbed version so you'll have to watch it in Spanish. But trust me, language barrier or not, you get the idea):

Shit is pretty wicked huh? Jump to 40 years later without a clue to where this kid ends up--part of the movie is guessing which fucked up character it is. We start with grisly murders occurring around a university campus. From a few establishing "the killer" point-of-view shots with gloved hands piecing together different sections of the body in the same naked lady puzzle his mom got chopped over.....with these shots coinciding with the campus murders shortly before they happen on screen, the film leads the audience to assume that the killer is taking the parts of the girls he kills and patching them together to make a twisted "puzzle" of his own, made up of real parts.

Here is a clip of the first chainsaw-chopping extravaganza!

Naturally we might think it is the squinty groundskeeper with a "Beard of Doom" (and slightly resembling Franco Harris of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers)....mostly because, um, yeah, he's carrying a chainsaw.

" O Hai Dean, huhwhat? lolz! this chainsaw? Not mine. JK!

Here is a shot of the killer peeping through the door. Apparently the figure is supposed to be a direct rip-off of The Shadow (paging Alec Baldwin!) The cloaked figure is, surprisingly, a little creepy, but you should not go into this expecting an actually scary movie, not by any means. Expectations should be set to "CORN" and unaltered throughout. Granted, it's great corn, but corn nonetheless. Let it wash over you.

I am hesitant to carry this review much further without really revealing some of the better ridiculous moments. I don't feel too badly because Pieces isn't exactly plot-heavy. It is campy craziness and for that I love it.

"No, don't reveal any more plot you spoiler fuck!"

For instance, during one (often cited) scene, the tennis pro is walking through campus at night and she is *Jumped* by a man performing some sort of martial arts. Chopping and kicking at her, he eventually inexplicably collapses. Then the hero-boy character rides in on a motorcycle with a big ol' "What happened?" He looks down and goes, "Oh, hey, that's my kung fu instructor." The instructor then gets up, says he must have had some "bad chop suey" and then proceeds to run away. WTF!?!? The filmmaker supposedly had access to a stunt double/Bruce Lee impersonator and added the scene just to include him for that reason alone. That's it? Seriously? End of story. That's the kind of fucking movie this is: A "Hey let's throw this guy in because, well, what the fuck, I don't even fucking know, he's standing here, let's just do it anyways" kind of a movie. And that is just awesome, even if the "chop suey" is a tad racist. Ok, not a tad.

Here's one of my favorite scenes. Fucking hilarious:

And let's not forget about the famous "BASTARD!" scene. This is off the fucking charts:

Before I close I'd like to just say that even though this is corny, the violence, as you can see from the picture below, is intensely graphic. But, as I often say (because it is correct) this violence is so hyperbolic that it can be read as, indeed, a critique. Maybe that is all I can do to make myself feel like I'm engaging in intellectual work while I enjoy these craptacular schlockfests.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Return of the Living Dead

Where is the line between parody and homage? Is it even possible to separate those two concepts? What happens when they bleed into each other, creating a brilliant genre-blending pastiche that any horror-junkie-fanboy would drool over? Ok, sure, that last one isn't a real question. And the former two would normally make me roll my eyes and yell "Shut the fuck up and watch the fucking movie" to whatever dumb ass felt the need to ask them. But I'll brush my populist hostility aside for a moment, because, honestly, to me, watching The Return of the Living Dead (1985) brings all of those questions to the forefront of the conversation whether I want them to be there or not.

Sitting on my cramped loveseat and enjoying my first experience with this hyperbolic uber-80s-fashioned punk rock zombie-fest, I kept thinking: Are they making fun of Night of the Living Dead? Or, do they love it? Is it some kind of strange sequel that ignores George Romero's two actual sequels? (I'm only counting Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead). How am I supposed to process this ridiculousness?

The story goes a little something like this: Frank (James Karen) works at a medical warehouse that stores everything from potent embalming chemicals to human skeletons and dead cadavers in the freezer. His dopey employee and assistant Freddy(Thom Matthews) is going through training as its his first day on the job. In the process of giving Freddy the tour of the facility, they manage to mess with some top-secret chemicals in US Military-stamped barrels. They don't just manage to become engulfed in the toxic fumes, their foolishness also leads to the chemicals seeping upstairs into the cadaver freezer. This turns the dead body into a zombie. Here's a clip of the hilarity that ensues (I recommend sticking through the whole thing, it's worth it):

While these Three Stooge-ish warehouse shenanigans are occurring, there's a side story with a big group of punk rock and new wave--yeah, I know--kids looking to "party." These high-schoolers happen to be friends with Freddy (warehouse new guy) and while they're waiting for Fred to get off work, they hang out in the cemetery that just so happens to be located directly next door to the warehouse. As you can probably guess, once shit starts to go down the cemetery is bad news. But before any of that happens, we get a wildly gratuitous nudity shot. Here's the scene that lead up to it:

Right afterward she literally rips her shirt open and runs on top of a nearby tomb where she proceeds to dance around, sliding her pants off gyrating and shaking for no particular reason besides being naked. On the left is a pic of her in her full punkrawk nudeness.

Meanwhile, the warehouse fellas decide to take the chopped up corpse to the mortuary across the street to have it cremated. They tell the mortician that they have, get this, "rabid weasels" in a bag (the body parts are still moving around although they're chopped to pieces). Mortician doesn't buy it ("call animal control" he huffs), opens the bag, and a severed arm attacks his leg and rips his pants.

They manage to toss the bags o' body-parts into the crematory chamber; however, burning the dead body only re-releases the toxic fumes into the air causing an acid rain storm that rains the poison into the soil of the (wait for it......wait for it.......) CEMETERY! Once that shit happens, zombies appear all over and the teenagers try to hide:

I'm going to stop there with the plot because, as you can probably guess, the wackiness continues and it just wouldn't be any fun to give it away. There are three tiny surprises that I just can't help but post here. One is the infamous "legless zombie":

The second is the upper torso that explains why they eat brains (I'm sorry, but this is just fucking brilliant):

And last, but most certainly not least, we have the zombie known as "Tarman"

Now, to wrap things up I'd like to return to my initial question about the distinction between parody and homage. Let's leave The Return of the Living Dead for a moment, and mosey through territory that might be more familiar for those of you initiated in the nuances of schlock horror. Take the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker (ZAZ) comedy, Airplane (1980), for instance. Spoofing the ridiculously corny disaster movies of the 1970s it seems, to me, to be fairly clear that ZAZ's intention was not to celebrate these movies as much as to laugh at them--There I go speculating on "intention" again, but hang with me. True, Airplane has genre specific inside jokes with references to all of those Airport films. But are the jokes handled with affection? What about something like Kill Bill(2003/04)? Clearly Quentin Tarantino loves the martial-arts genre. Every scene is drenched in his fan-boy affection. Here too we can see genre-specific inside jokes and references, but the jokes are more winkwink-nudgenudge than sticking a knife in and twisting it around.

It seems like I'm leading toward intention as a barometer; that is, if it was a filmmaker's intent to make fun of the genre than it is more clearly a parody. But here's the kicker: Some might argue, and rightly so, that even if this intention-bullshit is true (it isn't) that the Airplane movie actually demonstrates a deep affection for the Airport series through their imitation and parody.

But this digression is set up not to fall into a debate about whether ZAZ loved the Airport movies just as much as Tarantino loves 70s kung-fu flicks (they don't), but instead my purpose was to demonstrate how difficult it is to situate a movie like The Return of the Living Dead on this spectrum.

Where the fuck does it go? And why do I feel the need to classify the fuck out of everything?

There's a great deal of comedy, often self-referential, but The Return of the Living Dead is not laughing at zombie movies. Yet, it's not exactly a strict homage either, as it seems to rewrite too many of the genre's rules (well, homages can still do that). It might even technically be a "sequel." Early on in the movie, when Frank is showing Freddy the toxic barrels, he directly references Romero's Night of the Living Dead, saying that what happened in that movie was true, but the military made Romero change the facts around so people wouldn't be suspicious. Later, they first try to kill the zombie using strategies they learned from the original movie: destroying the brain. The problem is, it doesn't work. Ultimately, Return seems to be distinctly its own movie, and its own weird category, alternating between horror, camp, comedy, 80s glampunk, homage, and parody simultaneously. It shifts effortlessly in and out of these artificial categories and this is probably why it has such a tremendously powerful cult following in the horror film geek circle. This fucking movie even has a product-line:

Are you kidding, a fucking clock?

At the end of the day, Return of the Living Dead is quite possibly one of the coolest movies on the planet. If you find yourself, right now, questioning the accuracy of that previous statement than you are probably no fun to hang around with and odds are I probably hate your taste in music (this brings up the truly badass soundtrack: The Cramps, The Damned, T.S.O.L).

But, dear reader (no one reads this blog) that comment is not intended as a cheap shot. I'm just starting the fact that I can read you like a book. Allow me in to your apartment and I'll scan through your DVD and music collection, construct an accurate description of your personality while analyzing deep-seeded psychological issues, and make judgments about the quality of your character. Be forewarned.

Ok, I'm kidding (kind of). I'm not that obnoxious. However, I will hold fast to the claim that there are certain artifacts (books, albums, films...etc.) that, like a pop-cultural crystal ball, clearly guide people like me through the murky gray-area of the personal tastes of the people that view them. Return of the Living Dead is one such artifact. Evil Dead is another. These touchstones need to be there in any important relationship. If you don't "get" Evil Dead then odds are we probably won't get along too well. This is why these pieces of fandom and pop-culture are so important to geeks like me....which is why I'm a geek. Its a self-reproducing cycle of dorkdom and I don't recommend getting involved.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Horror of Dracula: Sex Style, Drac Runnin' Free, Van Helsing Drinks his Piss

The Horror of Dracula (1958) is the first of 8 or 9 of Hammer Studios' Dracula movies and the second Hammer horror film overall (with the first being Curse of Frankenstein in (1957). From the mid 1950s till somewhere in the mid 1970s Hammer was responsible for a sizable amount of sleazy, (relatively) gory, and much-loved horror flicks. Most of these were reworking stories already made famous by the classic Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman...etc.) whose rights were owned by Universal Studios. But these weren't just updates by Hammer, they were instead serious revisions stamped with a distinct style.

To me, the Hammer style is very noticeable and easily identifiable. I've seen it described as "candy-colored" with its technicolor blood feeling vibrant and deeply saturated. The above/left poster really captures the odd hues demonstrated in the film, the reds literally bleeding down the page against grey skies and the looming gothic castle. It's a brilliant image, and its on the cover of the DVD I picked up for $3.00 at Big Lots! Actually, the European "gothic"(opposed to a more distinctly American gothic) as genre and motif runs rampant throughout this film: I already mentioned the large, chilly castles but let's not forget the milky-white young women in peril, in flight from the classic, sexually aggressive male villain in black. Moreover it wouldn't be Hammer Gothic without the often hammy penchant for melodrama.

One can see this visual style heavily influencing Dario Argneto's critically hailed horror masterpiece Suspiria (1977). Check out this famous image from Argento's movie and tell me it's not influenced by Hammer! By the way, if you haven't seen Suspiria you best check that shit out immediately if not sooner.

It is difficult to discuss "Hammer Horror" without mentioning Peter Cushing (Van Helsing) and Christopher Lee (Dracula). I won't bore my non-existent readers with bios of these actors, but it is worth noting that Lee's portrayal of the prince of darkness is nothing short of iconic. An entire generation grew up with Lee's face as Dracula's face. And what a goddamned creepy ass motherfuckin' face that is? I couldn't imagine seeing this ridiculousness 50 years ago!
This might be a blasphemous statement among horror purists, but Christopher Lee is my favorite Dracula. I'm sorry, Bela Lugosi is great, but there is something about Lee that is so unbelievably fucking sinister and cool. He hardly speaks, he just sort of glides along. And those eyes. Seriously, don't look into them, or you're totally fucked six-ways to Transylvania! Woooah, Hey Now! Damn that was just not funny at all.

So, let's take a peek at the preview:

As you can probably tell from the preview, The Horror of Dracula is a somewhat faithful adaptation from Bram Stoker's book. And I modified it with "somewhat" because all the characters are there, but their motives appear to be different. Harker seems to be in cahoots with Van Helsing before he arrives at Dracula's castle. There is no Renfield. We get no backstory about Dracula's origins. In this respect Francis Ford Coppola's version, I think, is the most faithful to the book. Which, of course, doesn't mean its better.

Here's the story in a hot-one: Jonathon Harker goes to Castle Dracula, hired by The Count to do some sort of unspecified book cataloging. Really, Harker's there to kill Dracula, but gets sidetracked/seduced by one of the young ladies already under Drac-Attack's spell. Girl bites boy, boy stakes girl, Drac-Rowdy escapes to London to bite Harker's fiance as payback for his girl's staking. Hold up, Van-Helsing's there and he's onto Draccy McDraccerton's game.

Here's Van Helsing staking Lucy, Arthur's sister, as she leads a little girl deeper and deeper into the woods. Genuinely creepy shit for 1958:

How can we forget about Peter Cushing's Van Helsing. The kind sir. The English gentlemen. The noble knight. The buttplug to DracAttack's anus. You get the picture. Really the whole thing plays out like some goddamned ridiculous episode of General Hospital with all the neck-bitings and stakings. (hint hint by staking I mean, heh, you know). Helsing chases Dracula back to the castle. Struggle ensues. Drapes get ripped off the wall (didn't match the curtains). Sunlight. Drac's a pile of ashes.

Much has already been written about the sexual style of this version of Dracula, and

the connections between sex and vampirism have been seemingly exhausted (and exhausting). But it is
worth repeating that Horror of Dracula and is often criticized for not just the submissiveness of the women, but the willingness and glamorized allure of sexual violation. The women do all in their power to keep their windows open and the crosses/garlic away so the night-stalker known as Dracula can have his way with them at night. So what this say about the politics of sex and femininity and rape? the blatant sexuality of Dracula an appealing counter to the "contemporary" (at the time) stuffy British post-war values of sexual repression? And in this manner, is the sexuality in this film actually a critique? Again, we are in a problematic binary. But it is worth noting that Lee as Dracula was considered to be a countercultural anti-hero; his Dracula was appealing to audiences who found themselves rooting for him....which can be read both ways.

I am looking forward to the next few films in this series (although they are far down on my Blockbuster que). The sequel, Brides of Dracula (1960) has Cushing reprising his role as Van Helsing with Dracula nowhere to be seen.

But Lee comes back, without Cushing, in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).

And shortly thereafter with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968).

* PS the title of this post comes from the Kool Keith song Sex Style.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wet Dreams and Leather Bars: A Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddys Revenge's Gay Subtext Revisited

To horror fans, and most certainly to fans of the Nightmare on Elm St. series, Pt.2 Freddy's Revenge(1985) is commonly referred to as "The Gay Nightmare."

Its hard to find a web page referencing this Elm Street sequel without it also mentioning what is perceived to be its gay subtext. So let's dig in to see what's up.

Take a gander at the promotional poster on the right. The text atop the poster, "The Man of Your Dreams is Back" is ambiguous enough, sure. Main character Jesse (Mark Patton) glances away from the embrace of a young lady in her nightie and toward the mirror. Granted, girl's got some hideous bangs and some granny-panties, but is that reason enough for the pensive snub? His reflection...Torn in two: half-skull/half man, less a reflection of his body then a reflection of some of the homophobic myths of the 1980s (and let's face it, unfortunately, well beyond) stupidly linking "other" sexual identities or practices with mental or physical (HIV) disease. Side note: Gay or not, what's with the fucking crow? And the lightning?

Let's check out the trailer for a general introduction:

Freddy says, "Shhhhhh, Ooh Baby, just you shut your mouth."

I'm less concerned with whether or not this sequel is or is not about a man coming to terms with his own homosexuality in the 1980s. I'm also not necessarily concerned with whether or not the film critiques or reinforces certain homophobic myths. It certainly can be read in all of these ways, even simultaneously. But, I'm actually much more interested in what makes multiple readings like these attractive to audiences, fans, and critics.

I must admit it is fun to go back through and read for interpretations often unintended by the artist or writer or director. According to Wikipedia, director Jack Sholder maintains there was never a hidden intention for a gay subtext to the movie....but even he admitted that he does see it in recent viewings. (He says this supposedly in the "Nightmare Encyclopedia" included on the DVD box set). Literary theory and philosophy long ago dismissed an artist's intention as the be-all/end-all of correct interpretations. I find that critics trying to figure out authorial intention are engaged in a form of rabid jack-assery like no other. Equally obnoxious are those who point to an artist's public statements about their work in order to dismiss other readings. An example of this would be conservative horror critics dismissing the political implications of George Romero casting an African American as the lead character in Night of the Living Dead.

Romero has stated that in the original script the character Ben wasn't written as a black dude, but actor Duane Jones simply gave what Romero saw as an outstanding audition. This really wouldn't be that big of a deal, but in 1968 having the only black character be the hero, the leader, in a sea of white folk was simply out of the question for most feature films. And it is difficult to not read politics into the ending, the final scene, in which Ben--the only survivor--ends up being shot, mistaken for a zombie, by a redneck posse. "See," conservative critics protest, "even Romero said the casting was due to the actor's ability, not his skin." And you know where that leads. If they had their way an exciting and important reading of that film would be off the table. But I digress...

Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy' s Revenge picks up 4 or 5 years after the first Nightmare. Jesse's parents recently moved into the haunted Elm Street residence and Jesse starts having some wild, wet dreams.

Anyone familiar with the series knows that Freddy shows up with his famed glove when teenagers on Elm Street fall asleep, setting up horrific nightmares that often end in a grisly (albeit creative) death. There's one catch: He can only hurt you in your dreams. But, the premise of Freddy's Revenge is that he is trying to use Jesse's body as a conduit for escape. Unleashed from the constraints of the dream world, Freddy would be able to wreak all kinds of havoc.

Now, how is this "gay." Here's a youtube clip that plays with the idea:

Some of the examples in that clip are a little silly, and the commentary is a tad offensive. Still, those interested in this reading often point to Jesse's struggle over his own body and identity as a metaphor. An evil spirit is invading his dreams, despite all attempts of repression, causing him to soak himself nightly; this same spirit invades and controls his physical body causing Jesse to grow the phallic knives, unable to control who or what he punctures with them. We can stop here for a moment to note two problematic elements or homophobic myths perpetuated in seeing the film in this way. 1) Gay = Evil, possessing an otherwise "good" straight boy. 2) Gay is something you can fend off if you fight hard enough (choose not to be). 3) All gay kids go through intense internal turmoil about their sexuality.

But there's more specific examples. In one of his fever dreams Jesse goes to a leather bar, where he finds his gym teacher as a full leather-daddy in costume.

"Hey there, teach. Shirts or skins?"
For no known plotting purpose, the gym teacher takes him back to the high school locker room showers, where, I shit you not, Freddy Krueger's spirit comes out, strips the gym teacher naked, chains him to the showers, and snaps his bare ass with a towel. What the fuck? How the fuck does that even make sense?

"Hey Fred, scrub-a-dub my back."
Or Jesse, here, stomps off to his room in a tantrum before having his own musical dressup variety hour with a wonderful little 80s dance-beat.

In another often cited scene Jesse is at a pool party with his girlfriend. They slip off into a little pool-shed for a fuck. Right in the middle, Jesse can't perform, and he runs away in shame. Where does he go? Right over to the house and into the room of a 80s-hunky male friend. With his shirt half-unbuttoned, Jesse says something about how he's a little freaked out that "something is trying to get inside my body"; 80s hunky (also shirtless) friend replies, "Yeah, and she's female and waiting for you in the cabana, and you want to sleep with me." Here's a youtube clip that does a little editting work to play up the tension a little more than in the original cut, but it's worth checking out:

Now, as I pointed out above, there are some problems with reading this as a "coming-out" movie, mostly due to not-so-tacit connections between non-hetero sexual identities and evil. Still, can the movie be read as a critiquing the above connection through parody? How else can you explain the scene where a parakeet get possessed by Freddy and somehow, inexplicably, explodes.

More importantly, I think a queer reading of this movie (and others, like, say Top Gun) is already a critical practice. And, recognizing the limitations of such a reading makes it even more so (on the spectrum of criticality that I just made up!) One such limitation I have yet to mention is how I, self-identifying as a hetero or straight white dude, can so easily co-opt and commodify a queer reading of Elm Street, or anything for that matter, how it might heighten my "liberal-cred" while reinforcing my normative position as critic or observer. Further, that this review, written for fun in my spare time, could work to diminish the important and serious work accomplished in queer studies if someone reads this and thinks I'm reading too much into the text. Can I even claim a "queer" reading? Is claim the wrong word?

Continuing, for the first slasher/horror film that takes place with openly gay characters see Hellbent.

For a really awesome website "dedicated to all things queer in horror cinema," check out

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

I've stumbled across this movie on numerous "best-of" horror lists throughout the years but I never actually got around to watching it until yesterday. I can actually remember looking at the above VHS box-art on the display shelf at Home Video Showcase (the video store I worked in Franklin, PA from the age of 14-18. I was a movie nerd much younger than 14, which is why they hired me...I was always hanging around the store). But when I was younger I always thought the cover art was pretty ridiculous. Henry, looking at himself in a mirror, with the subtitle: "portrait of a serial killer". Ooooo. The image in the mirror is like a portrait, just like the title. I bet we'll get to see how a killer *really* (ahem!) thinks. Yawn. Even that young I imagined it being a boring, brooding, introspective nightmare. I wondered why Gene and Roger would give it the double digit-extension.

After watching it I'm here to say my original assessment was indeed correct: It was a boring, brooding, introspective nightmare; BUT, that is what made it great!

But let's back up a minute. When this movie was first released the MPAA refused to give it an R-rating. Today this badboy would easily grab the R. Because it was either rated X or NC-17 (I'm not sure NC-17 was invented back in 1986), it was hardly seen by anyone beyond the film festival crowds and the midnight movie crowds around New York and Chicago where, however, it was very well received. Jump to four years later in 1990 and it was released to a much wider audience and we have the likes of Siskel and Ebert reviewing it.

The story revolves around Henry (played by Michael Rooker...resembling, I shit you not, a young Marlon Brando) moving in to his buddy Otis' grim apartment in Chicago all the while leaving a trail of bodies along way. From the beginning the two appear to lead a relatively simple, yet grimy, existence in a dark shit-hole of a building.

There's Otis there on the left rocking the bad-ass handlebar stache.

So, Otis' sister comes to stay for a bit to get away from home and find a new job. Over dinner one evening she gets all weepy-gushy for Henry when he talks about killing his mom (weird!), and thus begins the most unsexual brooding (yes, that word again), brow-furrowing, staring, uncomfortable courtships I can think of.

Meanwhile, Otis and Henry go on a seemingly random and haphazard--yet almost stunningly detatched and unemotional--killing spree, obscenely violent scenes that lead to the film's ratings controversy. In one of the most disturbing scenes in the film, during one of their murders the camera zooms out slowly, and as it pans back you begin to realize you are watching the taped version of the event along with Henry and Otis. They're just sitting on the couch, admiring their work. They watch with you, laugh, even put it on slow-mo. If it wasn't so effectively sinister I would accuse it of being a heavy-handed cheap-shottish attempt at making some sort of Funny Games-esque (well before it, obviously) commentary on violence and the audience's gaze or something smarmy like that. But, instead, it works because it doesn't smack you over the head with that idea in a condescending way like Funny Games does. And, as an aside, I liked Funny Games although I generally think the director is a prick. Moving on..........

There are a couple brutal, perhaps vicious, hard-to-take scenes of sexual assault that make the film practically unbearable at moments.

Throughout watching Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer I felt like there was a layer of grime on the lens of the camera. Grainy. Everything felt dirty and dark and dim. The camerawork and editing were, significantly, not self-conscious, very fly-on the wall with long takes adding to the stark mood and driving home a sense of ill-motivated stillness. Again, not a lot happens plotwise, but all the sitting around and conversing builds on an impending sense of "something shitty's about to go down" and, well, let's just say by the end of it, shitty shit does go down.

The gore was, at times, slightly over the top, much more so than expected for this kind of slow-paced movie and was actually quite jarring in its execution. In some ways it might seem out of place, but only popping up here and there (whereas Evil Dead just throws gore at you left and right) it sticks in your mind because of the contrast between a sort of naked realism and a busted face. Check out the bottle through this girl's face! Gross!


I can honestly say that this was difficult to watch and I probably won't see it again. I think I appreciate it for what it accomplishes as a film; but, it is a place I don't really intend on revisiting anytime soon. Why do that to yourself?

I tend to like my gore a little more campy and 80s and silly. Hmmm.....Evil Dead anyone? But I do think Henry is an important film, one worth experiencing at least once for those interested in artistic horror films and sort-of obscure, small-budget late 80s/early 90s gore. Or just fans of Michael Rooker! Come on, I know you're out there somewhere.

Coming next, a review (hopefully) of Night of the Demons!

Monday, December 1, 2008

We're Back

After a lengthy office discussion today where private bloggers were outted, I decided to revive this sleeping happy-horseshitter of a blog, something I've been planning on doing for quite some time now and never quite got around to actually doing it (much like my dissertation proposal....HEY YO!). But that shit's neither here nor there at this point, the good news is I'm back and reviewing horror movies. Although, technically, I only ever reviewed one beyond Evil Dead trilogy stuff.
Let's see. I just watched Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer earlier this evening so that may be the next review. It was my first time watching it although I have heard it mentioned on horror movie "must-see" lists for quite some time now. But that is jumping too far ahead. For now....I'm Back.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Army of Darkness: August 2nd Times Cinema Midnight Movie

Starting Saturday, August 2nd 2008 the Times Cinema of Milwaukee's midnight movie will be Army of Darkness. I know that seems really far away but I am so ridiculously excited I might be peeing myself just a little bit just thinking about it.
The last midnight movie I watched at the Times was the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, an all-around bad-ass experience because the audience was really into the whole event(yelling at the screen, screaming, laughing....the whole deal).......but, the movie was not projected from film, instead the owners used some sort of DVD projector.
I see that film as a sacred text. And to film geeks like myself that choice was equivalent to someone raping a family member, especially considering the fact that I paid $7.00 to see a DVD when I could have watched it at home.
I truly hope they fixed this mistake for Army of Darkness in August. But when it comes right down to it, I would gladly pay to watch it in a theater full of Evil Dead fans even if it is just a DVD. BUT...........those bastards better play the original ending instead of the alternate ("too many drops") ending. Know what I mean!!!!!
My review of Army of Darkness will come soon. But for now I am getting ready to go tailgating at a Brewers game. The things we must do to keep on keepin' on.....

Here is the Times' write up for the event:

"Army of Darkness
One of the all-time great midnight movies. A man is accidentally transported to 1300 A.D., where he must battle an army of the dead and retrieve the Necronomicon so he can return home. Directed by Sam Raimi. Stars Bruce Campbell. "

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

Sweet lord I love that front cover of my original Evil Dead II VHS tape. I mean, seriously, look how cool those eyes are staring right back at you. You know damn right that skull is up to no good even though it has nothing to do with the movie. Is that Ash's skull? Look at the way the teeth stand slightly ajar. In the place where the lips would be I imagine that the skull is relaying an Elvis-esque snarl. In a weird way I think it reminds me a little bit of David Hasselhof. Hey buddy, want a cheeseburger?
It took me quite a long time to actually watch this sequel because, well, I was so head-over-heels in love with the original Evil Dead that even at that young of an age I was already jaded by sequels demolishing the wonderful legacy of the original. I won't venture out of horror, which one could easily do, but immediately I thought of Basket Case, Re-Animator, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Demons. Now, the sequels to The Howling are all pretty much larege pieces of shit. Each of these sequels I grew to love and appreciate over time, but as a young snotty kid I was protective. And I was probably to young to catch irony, tongue-in-cheek humor, and/or some of these films' "self-awareness."
Regardless, when I finally sat down to watch Evil Dead II I was taken slightly aback, I thought my worst fears were coming true because the tone was so completely different then the first. Many of the reviews, including Roger Ebert's now famous review ( ) notices the film's direct homage to the Three Stooges in its physical comedy and slapsticky (and for these purposes gory) sight gags. Was this a horror movie or a spoof? Was it supposed to be scary or funny? Both and both.

Moving forward, compare the above VHS cover to my new DVD cover:


I mean, I love it....but it just doesn't have the same flavor. Its too blotchy and distorted, almost like a bad comic book. And there's something about the phrase, "Kiss your nerves goodbye" that seems a little corny, even for a movie wallowing in corn.

Onto the feature. Pop it in. First and foremost, I'm instantly reminded that when it comes to Evil Dead II you need to consider the linear storylines; this does not continue where the original leaves off, but in a weird way it does....Allow me to explain: there is a moment, about 8 minutes into the sequel when the unseen woods evil force bursts through the house and runs right to Ash outside. Ash turns around and gets off one last scream. Now, that is how the original film ends. Ash screams. Then credits. I loved this ending. I've listened to Evil Dead nerds complain about it, but seriously, it rocks, the music rocks, and I think anyone who wanted something different (like Ash "defeating" a monster) has no business being an Evil Dead fan. That is the kind of shit these kinds of movies are all about. Not the happy ending. Ash has never played the role of the traditional hero, if anything his character is a wonderful parody of that; to conform to or demand some sort of ridiculous happy ending is to sell out, to sell the story short, to sell Ash short. I'm glad Raimi didn't do it.

Whereas in 2 the monster pushes Ash through the forest and eventually starts to posses his body after dropping him into a large puddle. In a sense, we get to see what happened to Ash after the credits in the first.....yet, things don't exactly match up. They cut down the cast (there were 5 people going to the cabin in the sequel its just Ash and his girlfriend). This may not seem like too big of a deal, but if they were going for some sort of continuity then they were of course way off. I know from reading interviews with Sam Raimi that they were going for more of a retelling of the original story than a traditional sequel. Now that they had more money, Raimi was trying to tell the story the way he had originally planned with better special effects and all that happy horseshit.

After Ash is pushed through the forest and dropped in the puddle, he appears to be possessed by the same evil spirit that took over his girlfriend. He reaches upward, trying to fight it but there's nothing he can do, except, that is, wait for the sun to shine and expel the spirit from him.

But the sun goes back down too.......DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN.....

One of the things that I appreciate about Evil Dead II is that within, *literally* the first 5 fucking minutes and 30 seconds Ash accidentally conjures evil woods demons, they possess his girlfriend, Ash decapitates her with a shovel, and she is buried. Photobucket
What a way to start the movie. And it is that kind of slam-bang "holy shit" wildness that saves this sequel from being a letdown and turns it into Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on meth weilding a thunderous cracking goddamned chainsaw. AH! HA!
Ash makes his way back to the cabin and then, basically, hilarity and blood ensue.
Step right up! We've got laughing mounted deer heads!Photobucket
We've got blood spurting out of the wall!Photobucket
We have hands that attack their owners after they become possessed and "lopped off"!!!

And last but nowhere near fucking least, after the arm is lopped off we have a chainsaw modified to fit where the hand once was: Photobucket
and a sawed off shotgun (later referred to as the BOOMstick in Army of Darkness).

Evil Dead II is able to walk a fine line between horror and hyperbole, between the fantastic and the comically ridiculous and it never gets off track. From my standpoint the piece that holds the entire work together is the actor Bruce Campbell. What can be said about the man that hasn't been said already in countless other fansites, horror conventions, and nerdy commentaries? But the guy is downright brilliant and continues to not get the credit that he deserves around Hollywood (by the way, I loved his Old Spice commercial)
Observe as the above chainsaw/shotgun scene describe above evolves out of Ash's menacing grimace, chainsaw blaring, he flips the just-sawed-off shotgun back into his backholster and give the slyest, most non-ironic line: "Groovy." Only Campbell could pull it off and make it work in a way that does not undermine itself in campiness. Instead, it only adds substance.
(Note*** I'm still having trouble figuring out how to embed youtube videos in here. So you'll have to do some clicking. )
But I'm getting slightly off track. This post is about ranking the movies. As I've already made perfectly clear, I prefer the original to the sequel. Without writing too much about the original (that will be my next post) I will talk about where the sequel does not measure up.
While the trilogy, and Ash's characterization, ultimately benefits from the addition of the slapstick-ish comedic elements, Evil Dead II drops slightly below the original for that very reason.
See, the original was not necessarily attempting to be funny. Don't get me wrong. It is very funny. But I feel like in the original Sam Raimi was going balls to the wall, full throttle splatter-film horror. Throw 5 people in the cabin and let them hack the hell out of each other with hatchets. Its darker. More grainy. In a lot of ways it just feels more authentic and scary. The second one feels like the scales have been tipped in the favor of comedy.
I also do not like the special effects for the demonically possessed people in II. See, once Raimi and company got ahold of enough money to really display their vision, they were able to get down and dirty with much more complicated special effects! The result is a movie with a lot of rubber-mask-looking motherfuckers running around acting silly. I am not scared of the gigantic tree. I am not scared of Henrietta in the basement. I am not scared of the hand. Again, all three of these elements are WONDERFUL, but that raw, rugged, nastiness is gone. If someone is killed in II I feel like it could quickly turn into a joke. If someone gets killed in the original I feel like holy shit someone's going to get stabbed in the fucking throat, chew off their own hand, and then spit out liters of blood and shit. Its not a funny death, but a brutal one that can still make people wince or slink away.
I also really do not like any of the other characters in the movie besides Ash. The two relatives and their two guides are horrendous actors (I know I know, its a silly horror movie....but they can't even sell that campiness effectively like Campbell can). And they don't really do much to the story except to add more bodies for demonic possession and to give Ash access to the book of the dead.
Ultimately, I give Evil Dead II a 9.4 out of 10.0. Sometime in the near future I will give the original Evil Dead a perfect 10. And I feel terrible about this. I don't want to choose. And I don't want to diminish what I think is a wonderful movie in Evil Dead II, especially because some of the reasons I am ranking it lower are the reasons why I love it so much.
What do you all think? Am I a bad person? Have I turned into Evil Ash in the mirror?