December 26, 2014

The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014 - Looking For A Cinematic Needle In A Haystack Of Failure And Mediocrity

Needle in a haystack
     This was a rough year for the genre.  Notable new releases were few and far between, as evidenced by how widely I had to cast my net for recurring features like Noteworthy On Netflix.  I did find a few gems, though, so hope springs eternal.

     Speaking of Noteworthy On Netflix, that feature made two appearances in 2014.  Both were rounded out with a heavy dose of older movies, but that's okay.  A good movie is a good movie, regardless of how old it is.  Most of the newer releases this year were covered in the recurring Pre'Ween feature Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman, owing to the fact that I tend to stack up newer releases to gorge on in October.  Both of these recurring features became a little more in depth this year than they'd  been in the past.  I'm getting long-winded and self-indulgent in my old age.

Noteworthy On Netflix - 1/9/14

Noteworthy On Netflix - 7/18/14 - Digging A Little Deeper Than Usual

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman Vol.II, Part 1 - Bride Of The Madman

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman Vol.II, Part 2 - Revenge Of The Madman

    That wraps up The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014.  I promise I'll try to do better next year.  In the meantime, my sincere thanks to everyone who continues to visit the Dog Farm.  Best wishes for the new year and beyond, and I'll see you on the other side.

December 17, 2014

The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014 - Obscurities From The Bargain Bin And The Best Thing Roger Ebert Ever Wrote That Wasn't A Movie Review

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) screen grab
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) - Cinematic history that will never repeat itself...

     Spring of 2014 saw the third iteration of the Movies At Dog Farm live event, a screening of movies programmed by yours truly hosted periodically at the real world Dog Farm in Timberville, VA.  This time we watched an assortment of flicks often deemed "guilty pleasures" - a term I absolutely loathe - that included The Sentinel (1977), Starship Troopers (1997), and Saturn 3 (1980).  The movie that served as this year's tentpole however was a groovy little number called Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970).

     The appeal of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is almost impossible to convey to anyone who hasn't already seen it, but I did the best I could with the post Movies At Dog Farm III - Guilty Pleasures, Now 100% Guilt Free - Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970).  For the record, the screening of this Roger Ebert penned oddity directed by renowned boob man Russ Meyer was well received.

     Much earlier in 2014 I posted the year's only addition to the ongoing Dog Farm recurring feature Best Of The Big Lots Bargain Bin entitled It (1967) And The Shuttered Room (1967) - An Obscure Best Of The Big Lots Bargain Bin Double Feature.  It was the first time I ever captured my own screen grabs.  Apparently these two movies are indeed obscure enough that I simply couldn't come up with any pics that suited me otherwise.

It (1967) And The Shuttered Room (1967) - An Obscure Best Of The Big Lots Bargain Bin Double Feature

 Movies At Dog Farm III - Guilty Pleasures, Now 100% Guilt Free - Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)

     Please join me again next week when The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014 continues.

December 9, 2014

The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014 - Another Piece Of My Childhood Lost And Classic Horror Under The Stars

Interior of the old Dixie theater in Staunton VA - photo by Jack Coursey
The Dixie Theater in its heyday (Photo by Jack Coursey)
      I don't make my way to the theater as often as I once did.  Discs, downloads, streaming, and a decent home theater have rendered it largely unnecessary.  I still possess a lot of fond theater related memories, though, and I was lured out twice this year by old movies and nostalgia. 

    The first circumstance was bittersweet, as it involved one of my favorite old haunts being shut down for the final time.  Movies At Dog Farm Remembers...The Dixie Theater In Staunton, VA was an account of my last trip to one of the preeminent theaters of my youth to see a screening of Jaws (1975) on closing day.  I was surprised by how many vivid memories that trip called forth.

     The second trip to the theater was a much happier one.  I ventured out to a drive-in about an hour away for a special screening of Halloween (1978) and Night Of The Living Dead (1968)Diary Of A Movie Watching Madman - Pre'Ween Horror Under The Stars is an account of my first visit to a drive-in in over twenty-five years.

 Movies At Dog Farm Remembers...The Dixie Theater In Staunton, VA

 Diary Of A Movie Watching Madman - Pre'Ween Horror Under The Stars

     There's more to come next week when The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014 continues.

December 1, 2014

The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014 - Jaded Horror Fans And The Ever Changing Face Of Home Video

Dubble Bubble gum
Potential chewed up wads of Dog Farm content

     Some of my favorite posts here at the Dog Farm come about when I have absolutely no idea what I want to write about and just start typing.  It's like throwing a wet wad of gum under the couch  to see what dirt, dust, and fur collects around it.  Obviously, some of those dirty, dusty, fur covered gum wads were bound to make their way into The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014.

     The first of those - What Do You Do When The Scary Dies? - came about when I contemplated that very question while sitting in front of a blank laptop screen.  I didn't really come up with an answer, but I did manage to chew on it long enough to come up with a post.  Coincidentally, this was also the first post of 2014.  Right out of the gate this year I had nothing to say.

     The second post, Horror Movie Advocacy - You've Gotta See This Movie Because It Earns My Own Personal Seal Of Approval, was born of an even more circuitous train of thought.  I had just ordered some movies for Halloween, and I found myself wondering why I no longer purchased movies as frequently as I once did.  That ultimately lead to a sort of ad hoc history of home media formats.  That wasn't really the destination I initially had in mind, but it was a pretty good place to end up.

What Do You Do When The Scary Dies?

Horror Movie Advocacy - You've Gotta See This Movie Because It Earns My Own Personal Seal Of Approval

     Please come back next week when The Dog Farm's Best In Show 2014 continues.

November 17, 2014

The Dog Farm Descends From The Mount With The Ten Commandments Of Watching Horror Movies At Home

     This is a post originally published on Carl Boehm's website The Info Zombie on 10/10/14 after Carl and I agreed to swap posts for our Pre'Ween celebration.  My anal retentive nature demands the post ultimately find a place in my own archive, as well, so here it is...

     I panicked when Carl first proposed a Pre'Ween article swap between our sites.  After all, The Info Zombie boldly asserts that it feeds one's hunger for brainy stuff.  Movies At Dog Farm is mostly just my own personal internet drool cup.  What brain-tickling wisdom could I possibly have to impart?


     Since you couldn't know this, let me tell you that I just stared blankly at an empty laptop screen for twenty minutes.  I know movies, though.   By extension, I know how to watch movies.  Now before you take offense at the implication that you don't, you should know I often have to consciously remind myself of several of these commandments, as well.

     We know, but like children, we forget.  Anytime I don't enjoy a movie, I have to ask myself if I really gave it a fair shake.  If I broke two or three of these commandments while watching, I probably didn't.

     Roll with me, folks.  This is all I've got...

  1)  Dim The Lights


     I probably break this commandment more than any other.  It's imperative, though.  We all know that spectating cavemen blew out their torches before watching the mastadon show on a lit cave wall.  That urge is deeply ingrained and primal.  Ignore that urge at your own peril.

     The lights go down in the "auditorium" when the movie starts, and they stay down until it's over.  Unless you live in an underground bunker - or perhaps your mom's basement - you shouldn't watch horror movies in the daytime.

  2)  Sit Up Straight


     A prone position plus a darkened room equals nap time.  No matter how good a movie may be, you won't absorb that fact by osmosis when you fall asleep.


  3)  Turn On The Air 


     There's a reason theaters used to advertise air conditioning.  You should be cool when watching, but not cold.  It keeps you alert.  Also, your home theater being too warm and toasty is another one of those things that heralds nap time.  The only exception here is if you're watching drive-in movies and trying to recreate a balmy summer evening.  Honestly, though - if that's the circumstance, you're probably going to put yourself to sleep with that twelfth beer anyway.

  4)  Don't Use Cellphones, Tablets, Or Laptops


     In short, don't try to multitask while watching a movie.  Multitasking is a lie.  No-one can multitask.  Some people may be better able to quickly switch focus from one task to another, but no-one can really do more than one thing at a time.  Multitask, and your viewing experience is compromised.


  5)  Don't Watch The Movie Alone - But Don't Talk, Either 


     Part of the fun of watching a good scary movie is watching others get scared.  It may not be practical to recreate the communal experience of the theater at home, but you should always arrange for at least one other viewer to join you.  Remember, though, that you're only focusing on one task now, so no conversation.  That other viewer is only there so you can feed on their fear in the dark.

  6)  Don't Pause The Movie For Bathroom Breaks


     A decision has no significance if it has no consequence.  If you go to the bathroom, you're going to miss some of the movie.  Now weigh just how badly you need to pee against how much you don't want to miss some of the movie.  Choose wisely.

  7)  Put Down The Remote


     Any fiddling with audio and video should happen before the movie begins, and we've already established that you won't be pausing the movie for bathroom breaks.  Drop the remote and step away.  You're going to lunge for it the first time the volume spikes, but you must resist the urge to change the volume once the movie begins.  If the movie is really, really quiet and then it gets really, really loud, trust that was the filmmaker's intent.


  8)  Watch The Trailers


     Allow yourself these few minutes to revel in the anticipation of the main event.  The trailers are your movie watching foreplay.  They give you time to acclimate yourself to a movie watching mindset.  

     If the movie doesn't have any trailers attached to it (VOD), then find a couple to watch beforehand.  Vudu makes it easy.  You are hereby granted authority to pick up that remote for a moment if you have to navigate to the trailers.  You're only granted temporary immunity from number seven for that, though.  Drop that remote like it's hot again afterwards.


 9)  Eat Only  Movie Appropriate  Concessions


     In other words, eat only quiet concessions like popcorn, soda, and hot dogs.  Raisinets are allowable as long as you don't jiggle the box incessantly.  Nothing is louder - or more distracting - than someone trying to quietly open a bag of potato chips in a dark room.

10)  Watch Only One Movie A Night


      I'm expecting some resistance to this one.  What about the grand old tradition of the double feature, you may ask?  When double features were still in vogue, movies were generally shorter than they are now.  They were shorter because it was understood that they'd be playing on a double bill with another movie.  

     If you want to watch The Giant Gila Monster (1959) and The Killer Shrews (1959) together, fine.  Don't watch The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) together, though.  You'll grow fatigued during the second feature, and your appreciation of it - no matter how good a movie it is - will be compromised.


     Try adhering to these commandments for your next movie night this Pre'Ween, and I can almost guarantee that your horror movie experience will be improved.  If not, please feel free to blame The Info Zombie for trying to get me to write something brainy.  He should have known better.


November 7, 2014

Le Fear II: Le Sequel (2015) - Because I'm Not Afraid To Review The Sequel To An Original That I Haven't Seen

actor Kyri Saphiris in Le Fear II: Le Sequel (2015)
Carlos Revalos (Kyri Saphiris) contemplates where it all went wrong in Le Fear II: Le Sequel (2015)

Le Fear II: Le Sequel (2015)
Not Yet Available, currently in post production
Director: Jason Croot
Stars: Andrew Tiernan, Kyri Saphiris, Seye Adelekan, Aiko Horiuchi, Victoria Hopkins

     After the disaster of Le Fear, director Carlos Revalos decides to make a sequel with a bigger budget. What could go wrong? Simply everything.

         When I watch a movie that depicts the making of a movie I find it surprising that any project - good, bad, or indifferent - ever actually gets made.  It seems as though trying to get dozens of individuals pulling in the same direction at the same time must be like trying to get a bunch of children with attention deficit disorder to bake a cake.  Chaos reigns supreme.  It's a miracle any movie shoot results in a coherent finished product, much less a good finished product.  Of course Le Fear II: Le Sequel is (I hope) exaggerating that filmmaking chaos for comedic effect.  Even so, I'm sure Le Fear II wasn't created in a vacuum.  One has to assume writer/producer/director Jason Croot knows whereof he speaks.

     Le Fear II: Le Sequel is a mockumentary about fictional film director Carlos Revalos (Kyri Saphiris) trying desperately to mount his biggest production yet, a horror movie called - you guessed it - Le Fear II: Le Sequel.  Having contributed $500,000 of his own money to secure a promised $10 million dollar budget from producer Dirk Heinz (Andrew Tiernan), Revalos sees his best efforts thwarted every step of the way by an ineffectual production staff from Nigeria led by the incompetent Efi Womonbongo (Seye Adelekan).  Location mishaps, interpersonal turmoil, and absurdly  substandard special effects ensue, threatening to derail Le Fear II long before it ever sees the light of a projector.

     First off: yes, there actually is a beginning to this franchise-in-the-making called Le Fear (2010), and no I haven't seen it.   From what I've read about Le Fear, it seems as though Le Fear II is a quasi-remake/sequel along the lines of something like Evil Dead II (1987).  Apparently, the original is somewhat difficult to find.  The Le Fear II Facebook fan page had posted a link to Le Fear on Vimeo, but the link is now dead.  That being the case, I'm forced to talk out of my ass and make assumptions.  So what else is new, right?  Maybe if I'm mistaken someone associated with the movie will be kind enough to correct me in the Comments section.  I do, however, know thanks to IMDB that both Le Fear III: Le Cannes and Le Fear IIII: Who Killed Carlos Revalos have already been announced, and I love the fact that a low-budget independent director like Croot appears to be indulging in a bit of the "universe building" that's all the rage with the big studios now.

     So is the Le Fear brand worthy of further installments?  Based upon my reaction to Le Fear II, I'd have to say yes.  Make no mistake - Le Fear II is clearly a low budget production lacking the polish of the big boys.  Fortunately, though, the nature of the story - an earnest but naive director struggling to make a decent low budget horror movie with limited resources - insures that the budgetary restraints on the movie itself only add an air of verisimilitude that might otherwise be absent.

     The performances are uniformly solid, as well.  Kyri Saphiris nails the hang-dog perseverance of a director trying desperately to soar like an eagle while surrounded by turkeys, but it's all those turkeys that are ultimately the movie's strongest asset.  A meta-movie like Le Fear II lives or dies by the authenticity of its performances, and I almost never felt as though I was watching anything other than a spy's eye view of an actual film production falling to ruin.  Seve Adelekan's inept and disingenuous producer Efi seems particularly plausible, as does Victoria Hopkins' fuck-anything-that-moves make-up artist Queenie.

      Of course, not everything about Le Fear II works as well as it might.  A number of scenes are marred by questionable music cues that seem incongruous to the on-screen action.  Additionally, transitions are mostly poor or absent, with many transitions from one scene to the next being nothing more than a simple graphic bearing the movie's name.  Consequently, it's often difficult to gauge the progression of time, and the story is almost entirely lacking in any sense of urgency.  I'd argue that something as simple as including some manner of looming deadline into the narrative - perhaps a pre-sold release date that has to be met - would help tremendously.  Those poor transitions could be replaced with interstitials showing dates and times, a ticking clock if you will.  That one relatively easy fix would smooth those rocky transitions, add a sense of urgency to the proceedings, and raise the stakes for the struggling director and his crew.

     A more concerted effort to contextualize some of the filming gags would help, too.  We never really know what Le Fear II (the production in the movie, that is) is actually supposed to be about since the director and crew only ever refer to the particulars of the story in broad, non-specific terms.  For example, I assume from everyone's response to his appearance that there isn't really supposed to be a witch doctor in the movie, but since the movie being made also involves aliens and vampires, who knows?  Efi ultimately explains the presence of the witch doctor, but the initial gag involving his seemingly arbitrary appearance during shooting would be funnier if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he isn't supposed to be there.

     Finally, I would like to have seen the movie's resolution play out a bit differently, so here's the spoiler alert.  Director Revalos understandably believes he has presented his backers with an unsalable piece of garbage.  Somewhat inexplicably, producer Dirk Heinz loves it - presumably because he believes Revalos has delivered a horror movie product he can sell.  What if Heinz loved it for all of the wrong reasons?

     Revalos believes he has made a terrible horror movie that doesn't work, and he has.  But in making that terrible horror movie, he has inadvertently made a very effective spoof of the kind of horror movie he thought he was making.  Such a resolution would be a tip of the hat to those moments of unplanned Indy-shoots-the-swordsman style movie magic that happen by accident during filming.  Also, horror has a long history of directors who only made that first horror movie to get a foot in the door and then feel trapped in the horror ghetto for the rest of their careers.  As a horror fan, I would have enjoyed the delicious irony of a would-be horror director instead ending up being pigeonholed as a comedy director.

     Nitpicks aside, though, Jason Croot has made a broadly funny low budget flick highlighted by some well-realized performances that belie the movie's humble origins.  It's worth noting, too, that Le Fear II is apparently still in post-production, so it's entirely possible that some of the elements that didn't work for me may well end up rejiggered before the planned UK release date of April 11, 2015.  I'm at least impressed enough to look forward to the next entry in the Le Fear franchise, and how often can you honestly say that about a micro-budget independent?

Le Fear II: Le Sequel (2015) poster

October 31, 2014

Do You Wanna See Something Really Scary? I Used To Be A Cute Little Kid Who Wore Halloween Costumes!

     As much as I love Halloween, I don't really like dressing up for it anymore.  I'm now far more interested in my own personal comfort - the ability to eat, drink, and be merry without spending Halloween night uncomfortable due to a restricting costume.  I liked it when I was a kid, though!

Me as Casper in 1975 (left), as a generic kitty in 1972 (right), and as the Mummy in 1977 (center)

     I promised on The Info Zombie Podcast to share a few pics of myself as a cute young trick-or-treater, so here they are!  Just for shits and giggles, I'd like to invite everyone to share their own childhood photos on the Movies At Dog Farm Group Page on Facebook.  That should be easier than trying to attach pics here.  Also, please share your text based memories of dressing up for Halloween in the Comments section below.

     Finally, thanks to all the fine sites that helped the Dog Farm celebrate Pre'Ween this year.  You've each helped me along in my goal to make Pre'Ween a "thing".  Ten different sites produced nearly seventy-five posts this October, all of which can be accessed by clicking the Pre'Ween badge below.

    Have A Safe And Happy Halloween!

October 29, 2014

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman - Pre'Ween Horror Under The Stars

        Despite having waxed nostalgic about the drive-ins of my youth here before, I hadn't actually been to a drive-in in over twenty-five years.  The handful still open in Virginia are obliged to predominately show family oriented fare to keep the box office open, and I just can't see a Pixar movie as proper drive-in fodder.  Finally, though, the drive-in gods smiled upon me.  The Family Drive-In in Stephens City, Virginia offered up Halloween themed triple features on both their screens last weekend, and Adrienne and I made the hour long drive Saturday night to take in the show.  It was Adrienne's first drive-in experience ever!

View throught the windshield at The Family Drive-In in Stephens City, VA
The view through the Buick's windshield at The Family Drive-In in Stephens City, Virginia

     We had to haul ass after work to make the 9:00 o'clock feature, but we made it with enough time to spare that we had an opportunity to poke around the grounds before the show.  I'd never seen a drive-in with two screens before, and I was expecting two separate lots.  It turns out that the screens were placed one on either end of the lot.  The concession stand/projection booth stood midway between the two screens with a projector firing in each direction.  Consequently, vehicles in any given row were facing both directions depending upon which show you were attending.  Since both shows had already commenced before we got there, the lot's layout was dark and disorienting at first.  We used our little tour of the grounds to get the lay of the land, and we ultimately found a slightly off-center spot about three or four rows back that was just a short walk from the concession stand.

     Our triple feature had led off with Dracula Untold (2014), which was finishing up when we arrived.  Fortunately, neither Adrienne nor I cared much about seeing that one anyway.  We actually made the trip to see the other two features, Halloween (1978) and Night Of The Living Dead (1968).  While we were waiting for the first feature to finish up we poked around the concession stand.

Concession stand at The Family Drive-In in Stephens City, VA
The Family Drive-In's bustling concession stand

      The concession stand had a great menu, but they were pretty clearly overwhelmed by the crowd for this event.  Adrienne ordered nachos that were cold and icky, and I ordered an Angus cheeseburger that wasn't ready until about fifteen minutes into Halloween.  Luckily for us, the disappointing concessions were saved by the fact that there was a small building adjacent to the main concession stand that was making fresh funnel cakes.  The funnel cakes ruled!

     The drive-in was using digital projectors, but the ground level front of the concession stand had a separate glass fronted room - sadly, not really open to the public - that displayed the old behemoth projectors the drive-in had used previously.  Unfortunately, the area was too dark to get a decent picture.  The Family Drive-In also gave a nod to its past by still having window hanging speakers at each parking space in addition to broadcasting the movies' audio on FM.  We briefly used one of the old drive-in speakers before opting to roll up the windows and use the radio.

     It turns out using the radio was probably a bad call.  Once Halloween was over I tried to start the car during intermission, and I discovered I had a dead battery.  I walked to the concession stand to ask the proprietors if someone could give me a jump, and the request was barely out of my mouth before a young man with jumper cables was sent out to my car with me.  I'm guessing dead car batteries must still be a pretty common occurrence at the drive-in.

Marquee at The Family Drive-In in Stephens City VA
The Family Drive-In's roadside marquee

      Of course the main event was the movies themselves, and it was really a treat to see both Halloween and Night Of The Living Dead at a drive-in for the first time.  Being digital, both movies looked great.  Halloween was particularly strong.  Unfortunately, though, Night Of The Living Dead was screened in the wrong aspect ratio.  The 1.37:1 ratio had obviously been stretched to fill the screen, rendering everyone short and fat.  Oh well.  I'm pretty sure I was probably one of the only people in attendance who noticed or cared, and it really didn't detract from the overall experience much.  I was still seeing the quintessential zombie movie projected onto a massive screen under the stars for the first time, which was easily the highlight of the Pre'Ween season for me.

Movies At Dog Farm Pre'Ween 2014 logo

October 23, 2014

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman, Vol.II, Part 2 - Revenge Of The Madman

     It turns out I was probably being a little overly optimistic in thinking that only two parts of this year's Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman would get the job done.  I'm watching too many movies and writing too much about them to cover everything in just two parts.  This just turned into a trilogy, folks.  Vol. II, Part 3 is forthcoming...

Katherine Isabelle in See No Evil 2 (2014)

(10/14) See No Evil 2 (2014)  Watching See No Evil 2 was an odd experience.  I suspect I'm not alone when I say that my interest in this flick stemmed almost entirely from the fact that it was the Soska Sisters' first directorial effort since the stellar American Mary (2012).  Then the news came that the cast of See No Evil 2 would include Katherine Isabelle and Danielle Harris, two talented veteran sweethearts of genre fans everywhere.  Now I was really jonesin' to see this.  Rarely, if ever, had I found myself so excited about a sequel when I cared so little about the original.

     I suppose that's both the movie's blessing and its curse.  No one is going to be watching See No Evil 2 because they liked the first one so much, but it will find its way in front of a lot of eyes because everyone wants to see if the Soska Sisters are the real deal.  If they can work enough cinematic magic to make this belated sequel to a franchise non-starter worth seeing, then they're definitely filmmakers to watch.  Poor Kane.  See No Evil 2 isn't a Jacob Goodnight movie, it's a Soska Sisters movie.  Even if it's good, he'll get no credit.

     But is it good?  Well, yeah, it's pretty good.  It's not good enough that I'd want to see another if the Soska Sisters aren't involved, but it is good enough that I was impressed by what the sisters accomplished when playing in someone else's sandbox.  The characters display some personality, the performances are better than average, Kane makes an imposing bad guy, his character's mythology is deepened, and the whole movie is obviously more carefully constructed and artful than fans have come to expect from movies of this type.  The Soska Sisters have acquitted themselves nicely, and I'm sure a reinvigorated Jacob Goodnight will return to kill again thanks to their efforts.  Everybody wins.  (First Watch)

American Horror Story: Freak Show
(10/16) American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014) Yeah, I'm counting this again this year.  I'll spend at least the length of a movie watching American Horror Story during Pre'Ween, so why not?  After growing irritated with the fact that no action seemed to have any lasting consequence in last year's Coven, I was looking forward to the fresh start.  Seriously, what kind of dramatic stakes could Coven possibly have had when almost no primary character that died ever stayed dead?  Witches just kept conjuring everyone back to life... 

     Freak Show sounds like horror story gold though, right?  It pretty much was save for one heinously anachronistic misstep that totally pulled me out of the moment.  Jessica Lange's character performs the David Bowie song "Life On Mars" - a song dating back to only 1971 - in a scene that ostensibly takes place in 1958.  It appears from the previews that the show's producers will repeat the miscalculation in the second episode with a performance of Fiona Apple's "Criminal".  Why would a show that otherwise lavishes so much attention on period detail choose - repeatedly - to break the spell with anachronisms?  I'll keep watching, though, to see if there's a method to the music madness.  (First Watch)

Twinkie(10/17) Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers, Producer's Cut (1995)  After hearing for years about the mythical Producer's Cut of this movie, I was tickled to death to finally see it.  Does it redeem the movie at all?  Does it make it anything more than the worst Halloween sequel after Halloween: Resurrection (2002)?  No.  No it does not.  

     I hadn't watched any version of Halloween 6 for well over a decade.  It makes me sad to see an old, frail Donald Pleasance trying as hard as he can to make something worthwhile out of this turd.  Also, even though I've come to enjoy Paul Rudd over the years, I seriously don't know how he ever booked another acting gig with this terrible performance being the first on his resume.  And why the hell would you make a movie that hinges upon the appearance of Jamie Lloyd, a character we've been following now for three movies, and recast the role?  I'm sure there's a reason for that one, but I don't even care.  Danielle Harris dodged a bullet.

     All things considered, I still feel the same way about Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers as I feel about Twinkies.  You think, "Hey, I haven't had a Twinkie in a long time."  Then you have a Twinkie.  Then you remember why you haven't had a Twinkie in a long time.  The Producer's Cut is still a stunningly bad Twinkie.  (First Watch)

Curtains (1983)
(10/18) Curtains (1983)  After suffering through Halloween: The Steaming Pile just a couple of days ago, it was encouraging that the very next horror flick I watched exceeded my expectations.  I didn't even realize I possessed a void in my life where a Canadian giallo was supposed to be.  I'd never really watched Curtains before because all the bits I'd seen led me to believe it was stylish enough to warrant a better presentation than a crap public domain copy.  I'm glad I waited.  

     If you're wondering, the new Blu-ray release of Curtains from Synapse looks fantastic.  The movie itself is pretty damn entertaining too, as long as you realize from the outset that it actually has loftier ambitions than most of the early eighties slasher movies with which it's usually associated.  I was surprised several times by how stylishly composed much of it is.  I mentioned to Adrienne - who also enjoyed it - how much the shot compositions and color palate frequently put me in mind of Suspiria (1977).  Of course, Curtains as a whole isn't as good as Suspiria, but it was a lot better than it really needed to be to ride the slasher wave.  A pleasant surprise.  (First Watch)

Witching & Bitching (2013)

(10/20) Witching & Bitching (2013)  I've somehow managed to live to a ripe old age without seeing a single movie by Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia even though I've been hearing about his critically lauded film Day Of The Beast since it was released in 1995.  His recent feature The Last Circus (2010) has been sitting in my Netflix queue unwatched for months.  Subtitles, you know.  Don't get me wrong - nothing ruins a foreign flick faster than a bad dub (Blood Glacier, anyone?), but I still have to be in just the right mood to want to read a movie.  I'm so happy I found myself in the right mood when Witching & Bitching turned up on Netflix this week, and I'll probably end up finally watching The Last Circus before the week is out.  Added incentive: the lovely lady with the broomstick in the pic above, Carolina Bang, stars in The Last Circus as well.  I had so much fun with this one that I'm hungry for more from director Alex de la Iglesia.  Also, I've got a pretty big crush on Ms. Bang now, too.

     The tough part here is trying to explain to others exactly why Witching & Bitching was such an exhilarating watch for me.  The Netflix synopsis describes the movie as follows:  In this heist film turned horror fest, a gang of thieves lands in a coven of witches who are preparing for an ancient ritual -- and need a sacrifice. That synopsis is accurate insofar as it goes, but it does the movie a disservice by failing to even hint at the sense of pure anarchy that permeates the film.  It's a crime caper, a comedy, and a horror film all at once, and each of those components is carried to absurd and exuberant extremes.  I realized what an almost unclassifiable delight Witching & Bitching was when I tried to describe to a friend why she should watch it and words failed me.  They still do.  Believe the hype this time, folks.  Witching & Bitching may not the scariest movie you'll watch this Pre'Ween, but there's no doubt in my mind that it will be one of the most entertaining.  Recommended.  (First Watch)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)(10/22) The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)  Who'da thunk it?  The Town That Dreaded Sundown crept up on me like The Phantom Killer of Texarkana, and it turned out to be a fairly decent potboiler.  Don't be fooled by the title, though.  It isn't so much a remake as a kind of meta sequel to the 1976 Charles B. Pierce movie of the same name.  

     This follow up exists in a world where the citizens of Texarkana are still haunted by the real life unsolved mystery of the Moonlight Murders, a series of brutal killings perpetrated over the course of three months in 1946 by a hooded assailant who came to be know as The Phantom Killer.  The Phantom was never captured, the mystery never solved.  Each Halloween the locals gather to watch Pierce's 1976 movie about the murders at a local drive-in - pretty tacky, huh? - and last Halloween the murders resumed (fiction, not fact).  Since it couldn't possibly be the same killer some sixty-five years later, who's responsible for the new rash of murders that rock the community and eerily mimic the particulars of the old Moonlight Murders? 

     The Town That Dreaded Sundown chugs along pretty effectively for most of its run time, and it doesn't play it's self-referential scenario for laughs.  It "remakes" many of the murders as depicted in the 1976 movie, but it's very much its own beast.  It boasts beautiful cinematography, solid performances, and an intriguing premise.  Sadly, its one big misstep is a resolution that fails to satisfy and seems as though it was airlifted in from a different movie.  That's not enough to completely derail an otherwise effective thriller, but it unfortunately compromises the good work that precedes it to some degree.  The story might have been better served by a more ambiguous ending.  Still, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is better than one would expect from a quasi-remake/sequel to an obscure low budget horror movie now nearly forty years old.  I look forward to the next installment some time around 2054.  (First Watch)

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October 19, 2014

Play That Freaky Music - Popular Songs Linked Forever To The Horror Movies That Appropriated Them

      Sometimes a filmmaker does such a fine job selecting just the right song to accompany his images that it becomes almost impossible to separate a song from the association.  Here are nineteen songs I'll now forever associate with the horror movies that used them.  I'm sure I've missed a few, so please feel free to add your own favorites in the Comments section below.

An American Werewold In London"Bad Moon Rising" and/or "Blue Moon
Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sam Cooke, respectively 
Used in An American Werewolf In London (1981) 

     Director John Landis has always displayed a gift for selecting the right songs for his movies, as well as for juxtaposing said songs with visuals that seem incongruous.  Sam Cooke's soulful version of "Blue Moon" will forever be joined in my mind with the spectacle of David Kessler screaming in agony as he transforms into the titular werewolf for the first time.  Even so, for some reason it's the use of the Creedence track "Bad Moon Rising" just before that scene that always pops into my head first when I think of the flick.  Bonus points for the  doo-wop version of "Blue Moon" by the Marcels that plays over the end credits.

Halloween II
"Mr. Sandman"   
The Chordettes
Used in Halloween 2 (1981)

     Why does this one stick in my head?  Well, I was only eleven when I saw Halloween 2, and the movie's finale was nerve-wracking to me.  This bouncy version of Mr. Sandman was my signal that the tension would finally subside.  Then that deep male voice - Mr. Sandman - says "Yes?" in response to the girls' addressing him in the song, and I peed a little.  To this day I cling stubbornly to the belief that the voice of the Sandman is disproportionately loud in the mix, and intentionally so.  In my mind, Michael Myers would sound exactly like the Sandman if he spoke. 
Donnie Darko
"Head Over Heels"
Tears For Fears 
Used in Donnie Darko (2001)

     Okay, I know Donnie Darko isn't really a horror movie, but it's damn sure creepy.  I suppose the Gary Jules version of "Mad World" is the haunting song placement here, but it's the brilliant and surprising marriage of the less dour sounding "Head Over Heels" with the montage earlier in the movie that made an impression on me.

The Convent
"You Don't Own Me" and/or "Dream Weaver"
Leslie Gore and Gary Wright, respectively
Used in The Convent (2000)

     I've written before about what a nifty little flick The Convent is, and one of the things it has going for it is not one but two fantastic utilizations of pre-exisiting pop songs.  A Catholic schoolgirl in sunglasses and leather mows down a gaggle of nuns (it is gaggle, right?) to the tune of Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me" in the movie's opening momentsPerfect and unforgettable.  We get "Dream Weaver" as part of Frijole's shroom trip later in the movie.

Dawn Of The Dead
"The Man Comes Around" and/or "Down With The Sickness"
Johnny Cash and Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine, respectively
Used in Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

     I genuinely believe that "Down With The Sickness" playing over the getting-used-to-our-post-apocalyptic-mall-life montage is one of the most inspired cinematic appropriations of preexisting music ever.  It's rare that I find myself scanning the end credits looking for song info, so it obviously worked for me.  Even more inspired, though, was using the Johnny Cash song "The Man Comes Around" to accompany clips of the world going to hell in a handbasket during the opening credits.  With its biblical references about the end times intoned as only the inimitable Cash could have, it quickly and effectively lets us know that the shit just got real.

Return Of The Living Dead
"Surfin' Dead" and/or "Burn The Flames"
The Cramps and Roky Erickson, respectively 
Used in Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

     There really aren't any bad song choices in Return Of The Living Dead.  One could just as easily have pointed to "Tonight (We'll Make Love Until We Die)" by SSQ that accompanies Trash's strip tease, or even "Partytime (Zombie Version)" by Grave 45 that accompanies the resurrection of a graveyard full of zombies.  Obviously, "Surfin' Dead" gets the nod because it's The Cramps.  Who can argue with The Cramps?

     It's "Burn The Flames" by Roky Erickson that's really used to fantastic dramatic effect, though.  It accompanies the scene in which Frank removes his wedding ring and then feeds himself to the crematory fires rather than face his inevitable gruesome end.  For anyone reading who's never seen the movie in any form other than the U.S. disc releases, do  yourself a favor and track down a foreign disc on which the soundtrack hasn't been bastardized.  There are a lot of things that are just flat wrong about the soundtrack on those U.S. discs, not the least of which is that the effectiveness of Frank's scene is ruined by the choice to alter the timing of "Burn The Flames" and then fade it out too early.

I Know What You Did Last Summer
Kula Shaker
Used in I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

     "Hush" gets a mention more for its effective use in the advertising campaign for I Know What You Did Last Summer than for any use in the movie.  The somewhat inexplicable choice to use a cover of an old Deep Purple song in the ads just feels right.

Tales From The Crypt Demon Night
"Hey Man Nice Shot"
Used in Tales From The Crypt: Demon Night (1995)

     Good use of a good song in a good movie.  I'd never heard of Filter before this, so "Hey Man Nice Shot" is linked to its use here during the opening segment of the story proper for me.

House On Haunted Hill"Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)"
Marilyn Manson
Used in House On Haunted Hill (1999)

     Marilyn Manson's very Mansonesque cover of this cold and clinical sounding old Eurythmics song "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)"  works perfectly wed to footage of everyone making their approach to the titular haunted house.  Manson's tortured and melodramatic delivery just seems to match the mood of this segment.  Each troubled soul making his or her way to the house is doing so in the hopes of securing a million dollar prize for staying overnight in the spooky mansion.  Manson couldn't make that sweet dream of a life altering financial windfall sound any less appealing if he tried.

"Dueling Banjos" (aka "Feudin' Banjos")
Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell Arthur
Used in Deliverance (1972) 

     "Dueling Banjos" is an almost perfect example of sound wed to cinematic vision.  Originally composed and recorded by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith as "Feudin' Banjos" in 1955, the use of the Weissberg/Arthur version in Deliverance sans proper attribution ultimately led to a lawsuit.  It had to be, though, because the disconnect between the viewer's expectations based upon the obviously in-bred appearance of the backwoods banjo player and his virtuosity with the instrument sets the stage for all the ugliness that follows.  It's just not wise to encroach upon another's domain and presume superiority, and the "civilized" weekenders from the city pay dearly for their hubris.

From Dusk Till Dawn
"Dark Night"
The Blasters
Used in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

    As is typical of  the track selection for most any movie soundtrack involving Quentin Tarantino, the choice of the decidedly creepy tune "Dark Night" to play over the stylized opening credits of From Dusk Till Dawn is spot on perfect.  The guitar driven aggression of the track following the tense and violent pre-credits sequence just works.

Shaun Of The Dead
"Don't Stop Me Now"
Used in Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

     Fan fave Shaun Of The Dead is another movie that seems to make all the right musical choices.  Who can forget Shaun and Ed's drunken rendition of "White Lines" outside the Winchester pub?  It's the choice of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" that's integral to the success of the scene in which it's used though.  Watching the movie's principals enthusiastically beat the zombified pub owner with pool cues while the track plays loudly in the background is both incongruous and comical.

The Devil's Rejects
"Free Bird"
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Used in The Devil's Rejects (2005)

      I know I'm firmly in the minority in preferring Rob Zombie's House Of 1000 Corpses to its follow-up.  Still, there's no denying that The Devil's Rejects has its share of powerful moments, not the least of which is Otis, Baby, and Spaulding - down but not quite out - barreling toward the police barricade destined to finally end their murderous crime spree as Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" blares in the background.  I've never cared much for Zombie's choice to so blatantly try to mythologize three such irredeemable characters, but Skynyrd's classic rock mainstay was the right song to accompany the sequence.

The Silence Of The Lambs
"American Girl" 
Tom Petty
Used in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

     Everyone remembers Buffalo Bill doing the tuck-and-dance to the Q Lazzarus song "Goodbye Horses", but how often do you ever hear the song "Goodbye Horses" in any other context?  On the other hand, Tom Petty's "American Girl" - which plays as Bill abducts a senator's daughter - is still on the radio constantly.  And what do I think of every time I hear it?  Yes, "American Girl" is now forever tainted by the dark and ominous association.

The Exorcist
"Tubular Bells" 
Mike Oldfield
Used in The Exorcist (1974)

    The minor key piano motif we now all immediately associate with The Exorcist was not expressly written for the movie, and it's actually only a small portion of a much longer recording.  It wasn't conceived as a spooky piece of music, but "Tubular Bells" has now been damned by association such that most folks only think of it as "The Theme From The Exorcist".

"Bad To The Bone" 
George Thorogood and The Destroyers
Used in Christine (1983)

     I can't stand the recordings of George Thorogood, but that's mostly because my mother always thought it was funny to wake me from a hangover by playing Thorogood's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" at deafening volume.  Still, there couldn't be a more perfect song than "Bad To The Bone" to accompany the evil 1958 Plymouth Fury's introduction as she draws first blood before she's even done rolling off the assembly line.  Before some car aficionado calls me on it, both the Plymouth Belvedere and the Plymouth Savoy were also used to portray Christine in the movie.  Apparently the Plymouth Fury didn't actually possess all of the features described in Stephen King's novel.  We all know the "real" Christine is a Plymouth Fury though, right?

American Psycho
"Hip To Be Square" 
Huey Lewis and The News
Used in American Psycho (2000)

     I'd have absolutely no use for Huey Lewis and The News had the uber-psychotic Patrick Bateman not paused to school me before offing Paul Allen for having too nice a business card.  The only thing scary about the annoyingly poppy "Hip To Be Square" is that Bateman obviously holds the song in such high esteem.  If only I knew how to create a GIF, because the odd little shimmy the raincoat wearing Bateman performs while waxing philosophical about the brilliance of the song is priceless.

"Red Right Hand"
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Used in Scream (1996)

     Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" is a creepy song in its own right that references a line in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost about the vengeful hand of God.  It's really not surprising that it turns up in a number of genre movies and television shows.  I first came across the song on an X-Files compilation.  Despite all of its other genre associations, though, it's the brief use of the song backing footage of a deceptively tranquil looking Woodsboro near the beginning of Scream that most resonates.

The House Of The Devil
"One Thing Leads To Another"
The Fixx
Used in The House Of The Devil (2009)

     What can I say?  I just like watching a pretty young girl from the Awesome 80s bop around a spooky old house listening to  The Fixx on her Sony Walkman.  Who doesn't?

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October 12, 2014

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman, Vol. II, Part 1 - Bride Of The Madman

     Like almost everyone, I make a special effort to watch even more genre movies than usual during the month of October.  Last year, this post chronicling my Pre'Ween viewing schedule was a standalone at the end of the month.  This year, however, my notes on all the movies I was watching started to get out of hand.  Here, then, is the first part of the Pre'Ween 2014 Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman.  The second part drops at the end of the month.  Speak up in the Comments below.  Since most of these are newer movies, I'm anxious to compare notes.

a messy toilet bowl from Septic Man (2013)
(10/1) Septic Man (2013)  - Tony Burgess wrote Pontypool (2008), one of the best genre movies of the last decade.  He also wrote the recently released Septic Man, the tale of a sewage worker transformed into something hideous by toxic sewage.  You can imagine how excited I was to find it streaming on Vudu for only ninety-nine cents on the very first day of Pre'Ween.  After watching, I think I know why it was on sale.

     Although it held my attention throughout, Septic Man is a hard movie to watch.  Viewers are treated to the graphic rendering of a projectile vomit/projectile diarrhea twofer in the movie's first few minutes, and then it never really gets any less gross after that.  I know.  What did I expect?  It's all right there in the title.  I could have been okay with the crudity, though, if only there had been anything going on beneath the shitty surface.

     Though ponderous and oozing with portent, the shit in Septic Man is never really as deep as director Jesse Thomas Cook obviously wants us to believe it is. To be fair, he does make solid use of Nate Kreiswirth's pulsing, synthesized score to convince the viewer something is happening even when it's not.  Still, the vague narrative and willfully obtuse storytelling of Septic Man ultimately sinks it even if you can stomach the nastiness. This was a less than auspicious start to my Pre'Ween viewing.  (First Watch)

Invasion Of The Bee Girls (1973)
(10/4) Invasion Of The Bee Girls (1973) - I have no recollection of watching this.  I did, but my attention wandered almost immediately.  A movie about women killing men by fucking them to death should've been more compelling.  Invasion Of The Bee Girls was chock full of naked women, bizarre dialog, and bad acting, but those elements just didn't jell into the silly soft-core camp fest I was anticipating.  (First Watch)

Michael Gough in Horror Hospital (1973)(10/6) Horror Hospital (1973) - Michael Gough owns it as the evil Dr. Storm, a wheelchair bound nut job who uses his "Hairy Holidays" health farm to lure wayward hippies to the country to be lobotomized.  The mad doctor has also made a pretty nifty modification to his Rolls Royce.  Did I mention his dwarf manservant Frederick?  It's all here, folks, and it's all just as loopy as it sounds.

     Though I'll cop to being a tiny bit disappointed by Horror Hospital (its reputation led me to believe it would be a little more over the top than it actually was) I can't say I didn't enjoy it.  How could I not be tickled by Frederick the dwarf methodically stacking unconscious bodies on top of one another to reach a lock at the top of a door?   (First Watch)

Killer Adam Lynch in Sledge (2014)(10/8) Sledge (2014) - Unfortunately, this low budget slasher from writer/director/star Kristian Hansen pushed my Pre'Ween movie binge back a few steps.  Hansen attempts to be meta by having us watching someone else watch the movie Sledge on a television program called Assly's True American Horror, but the conceit leads to little more than an obvious final scare.

     You see, the movie-within-a-television-show-within-a-movie entitled Sledge stars a killer named Adam Lynch, who believes himself to be the star of a movie/video game.  His victims are just ducks in a shooting gallery as far as he's concerned.  Of course, his victims in the movie feel differently.  There's potential here, but the tone swings wildly from the humorous (Lynch's stream of consciousness patter as he takes out his victims) to the oddly sober (a laboriously structured love triangle that strains to build viewer empathy for Lynch's victims, though it seems clear from the tone elsewhere that Sledge is only spoofing the sub-genre it emulates).

     In fairness to the filmmakers, I feel obliged to note that reviews of Sledge from around the internet are mostly positive.  I wasn't wowed by Sledge, but a lot of other horror fans were.  Since the production was obviously crafted from limited resources - and makes decent use of said resources - I don't want to be less than charitable in my own assessment.  I can at least acknowledge that I saw potential here, and there are worse ways to blow a few bucks of your streaming budget than supporting an earnest attempt by fledgling filmmakers to do something a little different with a limited budget.  Sledge didn't do much for me, but you may love it.  (First Watch)       

Ted Levine in Banshee Chapter (2013)
(10/10) Banshee Chapter (2013) - Here at last is my first pleasant surprise this Pre'WeenBanshee Chapter had been lurking in my Netflix queue for a long while, but I kept jumping over it because I assumed a narrative revolving around the CIA's nightmarish Project MKUltra would be overwhelmingly depressing and bleak.  It turns out Banshee Chapter plays more like a previously un-produced episode of The X-Files, with plots and conspiracies woven together to create a more traditionally creepy horror flick than I expected.

    Even better, the always amazing Ted "Buffalo Bill" Levine steals the show as writer Thomas Blackburn, a thinly veiled riff on gonzo counter cultural icon Hunter S. Thompson.  Levine seems to be channeling the late Thompson, and his performance elevates Banshee Chapter from decent to noteworthy.  This was the most fun I've had with a horror flick in a long while.  First time director Blair Erickson mines the dark corners of the frame for all the spooky atmosphere possible, and he wields those vast expanses of inky blackness throughout the movie like a weapon.  There are plenty of well-earned jump scares to keep the viewer on edge, and Erickson scares more by virtue of what he doesn't show than what he does.

     It's worth noting, too, that Banshee Chapter borrows many of its creepy narrative conceits from H.P. Lovecraft's "From Beyond", a connection I wasn't aware of prior to viewing.  That being the case, Banshee Chapter stands as one of the better adaptations of Lovecraft that I've seen, as well.  Recommended.  (First Watch)

Horns (2013) poster
(10/11) Horns (2013) - Last but not least in my first wave of Pre'Ween viewing is director Alexandre Aja's pleasingly odd horror fantasy Horns, an adaptation of Joe Hill's novel of the same name.  Star Daniel Radcliffe works hard to put a little distance between himself and Harry Potter, and he largely succeeds.  Aja evolves a bit, too, tackling a story dependent upon both tragedy and humor to maintain its unique tone.  It's a tough balancing act, and Aja pulls it off admirably.

     Since this is a new release, I'm going to refrain from delving too deeply into the details and say only that I had high expectations, being both a fan of the source novel and of director Alexandre Aja's previous work.  I was not disappointed.  Horns is funny, dark, touching, and wholly unique.  While it probably should not be your first choice if you're looking for a traditionally scary horror movie this season, I'm certain most genre fans will find a lot to like about it when in a more reflective frame of mind.  Fittingly, Horns is a movie to curl up with just as you would a good book on a chilly autumn afternoon.  Recommended.  (First Watch)                  


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