December 31, 2012

Movies At Dog Farm Reflects On 2012 And Looks Forward To 2013

sunset over a path less taken
The Sun Sets On 2012
     If anyone had told me at this time last year that I'd be sitting down in front of a laptop on New Year's Eve 2012 composing a post for my own movie blog, I wouldn't have believed it.  I'd never even been on Facebook before the beginning of 2012.  It's funny how often we end up stumbling down paths we hadn't anticipated.

     Thanks to Phil Neff for encouraging me to program movies for the two Movies At Dog Farm Events that ultimately led me here.  I look forward to programming one for the spring.

     Thanks to all the new friends and acquaintances that I met through these events (and through the Facebook page promoting them) for encouraging me, as well.  The Movies At Dog Farm blog would not have happened had I not been trying to share what were actually blog entries on that original Movies At Dog Farm group page.

     Finally, thanks to all the other bloggers I've met while getting my own blog off the ground.  I'm inclined to think better of the world in general when I see others with no vested interest in the success of this enterprise taking time out from their own projects to offer kind words, tips, and support.  Your input is greatly appreciated.

     I'd also like to take a moment to draw attention to the banner for the Horror Blogger Alliance in the Dog Farm sidebar.  They've been kind enough to admit me into their ranks.  There's loads of great content there, so be sure to check it out.

     Going forward . . . you can expect to see my thoughts on Texas Chainsaw 3D sometime next weekend.  I'm also hoping to add the occasional guest post just to keep things interesting.  Horror is my wheelhouse, but I'd like to see Movies At Dog Farm maintain a slightly broader scope.  I'll also continue to tweak existing content in the new year - Movies At Dog Farm Remembers, Noteworthy On Netflix - so if you see something you like (or don't like) please keep me posted.

     On a related note, The Dog Farm Kennel chatroom at the bottom of the page is almost always open if I'm online.  Just bark, and I should hear the notification.  The one thing I miss here in the blogosphere is the social interaction of the Facebook group page.


     Movies At Dog Farm resolves the following for 2013:

. . . to watch at least one "regular movie" for every three "Dog Farm movies" I watch.

. . . to smile more.  My look of perpetual consternation is etching itself permanently into my face.

changing the baby while wearing a gas mask
Photo Credit:  Dave Engledow on and on Facebook
. . . to learn how to change a diaper with the skill and quiet dignity of an English nanny.

. . . to reserve judgement on the forthcoming remakes of Evil Dead and Suspiria until presented with the irrefutable empirical evidence that the remakes are, in fact, inferior to the originals.

. . . to create a podcast.

. . . to get through the next Movies At Dog Farm Event without pain killers or antibiotics.

. . . to do my damnedest not to age this year.  This shit has got to stop.

     Keep coming to visit, and I'll do my best to make Movies At Dog Farm a place worth visiting!

                                                Have a safe and happy New Year! 

December 27, 2012

Movies At Dog Farm Remembers . . . Glorious Black & White

black and white tv test pattern

       I'm not completely backwards.  I'll embrace any new technology that I believe genuinely improves my quality of life.  I'm much quicker to embrace improvements in audio and video presentation, too, because how could any sane person argue that high definition, lossless audio, and correct aspect ratios aren't improvements.  I do not, however, believe that new tech automatically renders old tech obsolete.

     Example:  I can't stand listening to my home theater receiver attempt to make 5.1 surround sound from an older movie's mono soundtrack.  The sound engineers who created that soundtrack created it with the intent of mono playback, and trying to "improve" that soundtrack by spreading it over multiple channels just sounds thin, scattered, and wrong.  I'm not a big fan of "better" refresh rate making my shot-on-film-at-24-fps movies look like shot-on-video soap operas, either.  Different isn't automatically better.

colorized Ymir from Harryhausen's 20 Million Miles to Earth
The colorized Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth.
     You've probably already surmised that I wouldn't be a fan of colorizing old movies, either, and you'd be right.  There are exceptions, though.  Ray Harryhausen oversaw the colorization of three of his black and white movies a few years back (story here), and by God, if Ray Harryhausen himself is cool with it, then I want to see it.  They're beautiful, by the way.  The DVD releases offered the original black and white versions, too, so it's not like the "real" versions were tossed aside.  As long as originals aren't replaced by the newer versions (I'm looking at you, George Lucas) then the artists can do as they please with their own work.

     So how about making a color movie black and white?  Well, the same reasoning applies.  If the artists who created the work want to see it in black and white, have at it.  Black and white presentation still has merits, strengths that color presentation can't duplicate.  Particularly with horror movies, the interplay of light and shadow in a black and white presentation can render a focused and dreamlike atmosphere not possible with color.  It can also make a newer color movie look more like its cinematic forebears.  Witness the black and white version of Frank Darabont's The Mist (2007), for example.  Some work  benefits from a noirish presentation.  Like maybe . . . oh, I don't know . . . The Walking Dead?

The Walking Dead black and white comic panel
The Walking Dead comic
     The Walking Dead's former show runner Glen Mazzara recently Tweeted an image from a fan mag (prior to his departure) that indicated AMC will show all 18 episodes of seasons 1 and 2 in a monochrome format.  Makes perfect sense, right?  The black and white presentation mimics the presentation of the show's comic book source and will make the whole affair hearken back to the moody glory days of the old black and white Universal classics.  What's not to love?

The Walking Dead tv still in black and white
The Walking Dead TV show
     I was horrified to discover that pretty much everyone I know who isn't as old as me felt like this was an unwarranted step backwards.  O.k. - don't watch.  I'm sure AMC will also re-run all the episodes in color.  Personally, I can't wait for the black and white episodes.

     Black and white is a misnomer, anyway.  When we say a program is black and white, what we really mean is that we're seeing a continuum of black and white that includes the shades of gray.  I suppose the youngsters just prefer not to see things in shades of gray.  Sorry, kids, but I'm seeing more and more gray every day.  I'm cool with glorious black and white.

December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays From The Dog Farm

Christmas candle
     Take a moment today to reflect upon who really matters to you in your life.  Tell them.

     They need to hear it, and you need to say it.  It makes everyone feel good.  You could part company today and never see one another again.  It happens all the time.  No-one ever says, "I wish I hadn't told that person how I really felt about them . . ." 

    If you love someone, tell them.

 I guarantee that you love someone who needs to hear it today.

    Peace and Happiness to All   

December 20, 2012

Friends Of The Farm Prep For The End Of The World And Take Pre-Orders For January

     I'm so glad that the creative and energetic friends of Movies At Dog Farm have provided me with blog fodder.  I've felt guilty about not posting for a few days, but working December in retail blows giant, hairy monkey nuts.  So anyways . . .


cover image of "Hi There Horror Movie Fans!" The Bowman Body Documentary dvd
     Documentary filmmaker Sean Kotz is hosting a 48 hour End Of The World Sale at  The sale (and the world?) ends on 12/21 at noon EST, so time's a wastin'.  I've finally ordered my copy of  "Hi There Horror Movie Fans!":  The Bowman Body Documentary for only $10.00!  Why haven't you?
     I may have to scrape the Dog Farm's bank account for one of those nifty t-shirts, too.  Get yours before it's too late!

composite image advertising Jonny Dead's Trash Box
     I'm pretty excited about the forthcoming first volume of Jonny Dead's Trash Box, too.  Read more about it here, or just take my word for it - it's gonna be awesome!  You can just go ahead and place your pre-order now . . . 

     If you haven't checked out Blood Sucking Geek yet, be sure to take a look around while you're there.  So many others are already doing such a fine job with their sites that it's almost a little discouraging, but the Dog Farm is still young (even if I'm not).  

December 15, 2012

Movies At Dog Farm Trailer Park: Volume 1, December 2012

     This is just a quick round-up of recently viewed movies, as well as a handful of titles I'm looking forward to.  Click on any title for a link to the pertinent trailer.  Click thumbnails to enlarge pics.


Santa with a flamethrower from silent night movie 2012     I watched Silent Night (2012) this week - a very loose remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) -  and I really wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  It was more visually ambitious than I expected.  In fact, it was often quite stylish.  Care was taken.

     Unfortunately, I believe it was let down by a script that could have used another pass.  Mostly just a shrug for me.  Here's to hoping that I'll finally find my perennial Christmas horror movie when I watch Rare Exports (2010) on Christmas Day.


     Though I've seen a handful of exceptionally good genre movies recently - Some Guy Who Kills People (2011), Excision (2012), The Bay (2012) - I haven't really been looking forward to any upcoming releases. Well, that all changed today.

image from Pacific Rim (2013)     The first official trailer for Guillermo del Toro's upcoming massive monsters versus massive robots epic Pacific Rim (2013) hit the Internet on December 12th, and I somehow didn't bumble across it until today.  Oh.  My.  God.  July can't get here soon enough.  I was bummed when del Toro's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness fell apart, but it looks like he's still getting his Cthulhu on with these gigantic horrors from the depths of the Pacific.


poster for American Mary (2012)
     I'm also super excited about American Mary (2012).  Starring Katherine Isabelle (the Ginger Snaps trilogy), this Canadian production wowed audiences at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.  It premieres theatrically in the U.K. on 1/11/13 with a U.K. disc release following on 1/21/13.  Hopefully, this means we can expect a North American release soon thereafter.  I'm going to do my damnedest to procure a copy of this as soon as possible, and I'll be sure to report back.


poster for The Lords Of Salem (2012)

     Haters are gonna hate, but I've been convinced ever since the release of House of 1000 Corpses (2003) that director Rob Zombie has at least one more brilliant movie in him.  I think The Lords of Salem (2012) might be that movie.  It releases 4/26/13.


image from the movie Masks (2011)
     Finally, I read today that director Andreas Marschall's giallo homage Masks (2011) has been procured by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment for imminent North American distribution.  I'd never even heard of this one before today, but the trailer makes it look like it could be the best giallo that Dario Argento never directed. 


December 13, 2012

Noteworthy On Netflix - 12/13/12

Noteworthy On Netflix banner

     It breaks my heart to hear one of my friends tell me they took a notion to watch a genre movie on Netflix streaming and fished out a turd.  It's all too easy to do.  I'm often asked what might actually be worthy of a watch, so I'm going to begin scanning what's available periodically and posting recommendations.  These are by no means the only worthy genre movies on Netflix streaming, just a sampling of movies that I'm familiar worth that I think might otherwise be overlooked.

     Availability changes often, but all of the following titles were available to stream from Netflix at the time of this posting.  The genre listed after the title (Foreign, Comedy, or Horror) describes where you'll find each movie in your onscreen groupings.  Try doing a manual search if one seems to be missing.

     If you have recommendations of your own, please share in the Comments section after the post.


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil poster
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) 
Horror or Comedy / 1h 28m / R / HD

     Convulsively funny and surprisingly sweet spoof of every "cabin in the woods" movie you've ever seen.  Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine excel.


The Innkeepers posterThe Innkeepers (2011) 
Horror / 1h 41m / R / HD

     Atmospheric slow-burn ghost story directed by Ti West.  Turn the lights out when you watch it.  See also The House of The Devil (2009) by the same director, available via Search on Netflix.


Prince of Darkness posterPrince Of Darkness (1987)
Horror / 1h 41m / R / HD

     Cerebral, underrated John Carpenter effort .  Second installment in what Carpenter refers to as his "Apocalypse Trilogy" along with The Thing (1982) and In The Mouth of Madness (1994).  The "transmission" haunts me.


Black Sunday posterBlack Sunday (1960)
Foreign or Horror / 1h 26m / NR / Standard

     Gorgeous black and white gothic by legendary Italian director and cinematographer Mario Bava, probably his best work.  Netflix currently has a number of his movies available if you like this one.


Grave Encounters posterGrave Encounters (2011)
Horror / 1h 33m / NR / HD

     Handheld camera footage, so fair warning.  Uses "Ghost Hunters" type television shows as its jumping off point.  It's slow to get rolling, but undeniably effective when it does.  A sequel is available on VOD.


Let the Right One In posterLet The Right One In (2008)
Foreign or Horror / 1h 54m / R / HD /Subtitled

     Damn near perfect genre movie, touching and poetic.  Needlessly remade as Let Me In (2010), I suppose because Americans are too stupid to read subtitles.  I've never shown this one to anyone who didn't love it.


The Sentinel posterThe Sentinel (1977)
Horror / 1h 31m / R / Standard

     Fantastic star-studded cast.  You'll never see Beverly D'Angelo in quite the same way again.  Infamous for utilizing real human oddities in its finale.


Audition posterAudition (1999)
Foreign or Horror / 1h 55m / NR / Standard / Subtitled

     Somewhat laborious first half leads to an unforgettable endgame.  Very well regarded in genre circles, and curiously, never remade for American audiences.


Deadgirl posterDeadgirl (2008)
Horror / 1h 41m / NR / HD

     Rough and raunchy subject matter definitely won't be to everyone's taste, but interesting if you have the stomach for it.  It was released in both R rated and NR versions in the U.S.  This appears to be the NR cut.


The Girl Next Door posterThe Girl Next Door (2007)
Horror / 1hr 31m /  R / Standard

     More rough material, this time based upon a true story.  Excellent movie, but anyone who's ever suffered abuse might want to steer clear.  It's horror in the truest sense of the word.


Deranged posterDeranged (1974)  
Horror / 1h 22m / R / HD

     About as close as any movie has gotten to a proper account of the real-life crimes of serial killer Ed Gein.  It's highlighted by a stellar performance from Roberts Blossom.


Battle Royale poster Battle Royale (2000)  
Foreign or Horror / 1h 53m / NR / HD

     If you liked The Hunger Games (2012), check out this Japanese precursor that was so controversial that it remained undistributed in North America for over a decade after its release.  



December 10, 2012

Ten Best Genre Movies Directed By Canadian Auteur David Cronenberg

List of atheists (surnames C to D)

     David Cronenberg is smarter than me.  Sure, that's true of a lot of people, but he's exponentially smarter than me.  That's why I have such a healthy case of man love for him.  He makes movies that are so thematically layered, rich in subtext, and challenging to the viewer that I return to them again and again.  I tend to key in on different particulars each time I revisit a Cronenberg movie, making his catalog almost infinitely rewatchable.

     Don't worry, though.  You won't feel as though you're being talked down to.  Watching a Cronenberg movie is more like being drawn into a dialog with an endlessly fascinating guest at a cocktail party - a fascinating guest with loads of very peculiar preoccupations involving human sexuality, disease, technology, malignancy, psychology, fetishism, media consumption, and evolution by way of mutation.

     What follows is a list of the very best of David Cronenberg's contributions to the genre.  I've listed the titles chronologically so as not to imply any sort of arbitrary ranking.  If you're new to his work, every title listed is worthy of your attention.  If you're already a fan, go ahead and treat yourself to a second or third viewing of your favorites.  All hail the King of Venereal Horror, and Long Live the New Flesh!


They Came From Within aka Shivers movie poster

Shivers (1975)
aka They Came From Within

     In Shivers, parasites genetically engineered to be organ transplants are unleashed within the isolated gated community of Starliner Towers.  Those hosting the parasites display violently hedonistic behavior, and the outbreak propagates itself in a manner akin to the spread of a social disease.  While understandably less polished than his later work, Shivers finds Cronenberg beginning to explore his career spanning fascination with body horror. 

     There's a strong allegorical component concerning the violent implosion of an isolated society, as well.  The depiction of the community's final descent into anarchistic chaos and unfettered sexual abandon is chilling.

     Shivers was partially financed by the taxpayer funded National Film Board of Canada, and Canadian journalist Robert Fulford attacked the movie in a national publication with an article titled "You Should Know How Bad This Movie Is, You Paid For It."  Cronenberg was already courting controversy, a recurring motif throughout his career. 


Rabid movie poster

Rabid (1977)

     Rabid centers on the victim of a motorcycle accident (former porn star Marilyn Chambers) who's treated with an experimental skin grafting procedure that leaves her with a bloodsucking phallic mutation under her arm and an insatiable lust for blood.  She flees the hospital where the procedure was performed, leaving a trail of violent, diseased victims in her wake.  Her attacks soon lead to a city wide epidemic, and martial law is declared in an attempt to quell the outbreak.

     Though Rabid shares many thematic concerns with Shivers (mutation, medical experimentation, societal collapse), it's a more technically proficient movie that maintains a more consistent feeling of dread than its predecessor.  Rabid plays out more like a traditional horror movie, albeit one that possesses a seething mass of that peculiar Cronenberg sensibility at its core.  It's probably the least of the movies on this list, but it's an important step in Cronenberg's evolution from twisted b-movie maven to full-fledged auteur.


The Brood movie poster

The Brood (1979)
     Cronenberg wrote The Brood after a difficult divorce and child custody battle, and when viewed in that light it's hard to miss what one assumes are autobiographical underpinnings present in the script.  Cronenberg has acknowledged that the character of Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), the source of the movie's murderous brood of mutant offspring, possesses some of the characteristics of his ex-wife.  Given that the brood seems to be the physical manifestation of Nola's barely suppressed rage, it's not a flattering portrayal.  It's not much of a leap to read Nola's megalomaniacal psychologist Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) as a fictionalized depiction of a manipulative lover, either. 

     The Brood's final moments, which seem to suggest that Nola's "real" child Candy has been so deeply traumatized by the events depicted that she's doomed to someday produce a rage-filled brood of her own, are as bleak and disturbing as any in Cronenberg's filmography.  The implication that Candy's father Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) is unable despite his best efforts to prevent this outcome is heartbreaking.

     Cronenberg's viewpoint can sometimes tend toward being off-puttingly clinical and detached.  His obvious emotional involvement with the subject matter makes The Brood one of his most personal movies, and not coincidentally, one of his best.


Scanners movie poster

Scanners (1981)

     Though all of Cronenberg's films had been financially successful up to this point, Scanners was his breakout movie.  Scanners are individuals with a unique form of ESP that allows them to read the thoughts of others as well as to literally "blow minds."  Scanners is a parade of grotesqueries highlighted by an exploding head that found permanent residence in the pop culture lexicon and finally put Cronenberg on the radar of a much wider cross-section of viewers. 

     Michael Ironside creates an indelible villain in the form of Darryl Revok, the most powerful of all scanners and leader of an underground group bent on exploiting the unique abilities of the scanners to ultimately achieve world domination.  Unfortunately, Scanners is undermined somewhat by weak performances elsewhere, particularly Stephen Lack's underwhelming performance as "good" scanner Cameron Vale.

    In Scanners, Cronenberg continues to explore his preoccupation with the violence both physical and psychological that human beings inflict upon one another.  He also begins to examine more closely the vulnerability of our bodies to assaults from modes of attack neither previously imagined nor presently understood, a theme he develops with more poignancy and greater success in The Fly several years later.


Videodrome movie poster

Videodrome (1983)

     Though largely well reviewed at the time of its release, Videodrome was a huge commercial disappointment.  One can assume that it was simply ahead of its time, since its examination of how our collective perception of reality can be perverted by media imbued with the sometimes dangerous philosophy of its creators now seems disturbingly prescient.  Though the technological specifics of how that dangerous content is disseminated (Beta videotapes, giant C-Band satellite dishes) may now seem anachronistic, Videodrome's message has never seemed more timely. 

     The scene in which oily cable television programmer Max Renn (a never better James Woods) witnesses a roomful of homeless people in the "Cathode Ray Mission" each being encouraged to sit in front of his or her own personal television monitor for marathon sessions of t.v. viewing is chilling.  Renn is told it's to help patch them back into "the world's mixing board."  One cannot help but be struck by how much this bizarre tableau resembles a roomful of people choosing to ignore the others sitting in the same room with them while staring intently at the screens of their cellphones as they "socialize" via texting. 

     Videodrome is also one of Cronenberg's most visually audacious movies.  It's filled to overflowing with upsettingly organic hallucinatory manifestations of technology - "breathing" televisions, diseased videotapes - created by FX pro Rick Baker, and the stark and garish sadomasochistic Videodrome transmissions themselves are no less unsettling.  Regardless of what one makes of Videodrome's frequently disjointed narrative, it's a movie rife with indelible images.

     Videodrome is arguably Cronenberg's masterpiece.  It's a movie with his unique visual aesthetic hardwired into a story chock so full of his thematic preoccupations that the narrative sometimes stumbles beneath the weight.  It's essential viewing, but it probably isn't the best point of entry for those unfamiliar with Cronenberg's work.


The Fly movie poster

The Fly (1986)
    Eccentric scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is doomed to slowly mutate into a hybrid of man and fly after a botched experiment in teleportation fuses his DNA with that of a common housefly.  A remake of the hoary old 1958 chestnut of the same title, The Fly is one of a small handful of examples from the horror genre that proves indisputably that a remake can be worthwhile, in this case even improving upon the original.  The Fly is probably Cronenberg's most accessible genre movie, and not surprisingly, it's also his most financially successful. 

     Cronenberg's metaphorical examination of the very real and devastating horror of helplessly watching someone you love fall prey to the ravages of disease is emotionally devastating.  Jeff Goldblum delivers a spellbinding performance as the doomed Seth Brundle, much of it while wearing the brilliantly conceived full body makeup effects that earned creator Chris Walas an Academy Award. 
     As is often the case with Cronenberg's protagonists, Brundle is isolated in an insular world of his own obsessions.  He's fascinated by the particulars of his metamorphosis, collecting the last vestiges of his humanity in a medicine cabinet - ears, teeth, fingernails - as they literally fall away from his body.  Goldblum has always been an odd duck, and his physical tics and peculiar semantics suit the character of the dissociative scientist Seth Brundle so perfectly that one wonders where the actor ends and the performance begins.

     Highlighted by flawless execution, strong performances, and impeccable craftsmanship, The Fly is the culmination of Cronenberg's "body horror" phase as well as being an obvious high water mark in his filmography.


Film poster for Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers (1988)

     Cronenberg has always had a knack for pulling superlative, often surprising performances from his actors.  In Dead Ringers, Jeremy Irons plays identical twin brothers Elliot and Beverly Mantle, and he succeeds in creating two distinct and complex characterizations without lapsing into gross caricature to distinguish them.  It's an amazing performance(s).

     Elliot and Beverly are both gynecologists specializing in the treatment of women with fertility problems, ironic in that neither truly understands the figurative "inner workings" of females.  Elliot is the more confident of the two, a Lothario who beds his conquests until he loses interest in them, at which point he passes them along to his more timid brother Beverly.  Because they're unable to distinguish the two from one another, the women are unaware of this subterfuge and believe they're still with Elliot. 
     Ultimately, both brothers develop an attraction to actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold), at least in part because she possesses the physical anomaly of a trifurcate uterus.  Beverly commissions the creation of "gynecological instruments for operating on mutated women,"  medical instruments that look like medieval torture devices. His implementation of the instruments ruins his career and leads inexorably toward an almost preordained endgame of dissolution and death wherein the only way out for the codependent brothers is together.

     Though Cronenberg is still indulging his fascination with anomalies of the flesh, the primary focus of Dead Ringers is more psychological in nature.  Cronenberg's preoccupations mature, becoming less concerned with the malignancies that can destroy our flesh and more so with the malignancies that can destroy our very humanity.  If The Fly is Cronenberg's master's thesis on body horror, then Dead Ringers is his first bold step toward a more profound and expansive examination of the human condition.


Naked Lunch movie poster

Naked Lunch (1991)

       The William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch was long deemed unfilmable by most, so much so that Cronenberg knew attempting a straight adaptation would be folly.  He instead chose to mix elements of the book - as well as elements of other Burroughs texts - with biographical information about the man himself.  What he ended up with is a perverse and compelling cinematic singularity that imagines the world as experienced by junkie author and latent homosexual Bill Lee, the movie's Burroughs surrogate.

     Lee (Peter Weller) and his wife Joan (Judy Davis) are both addicted to the bug powder Lee uses in his job as an exterminator, Cronenberg's way of sidestepping excessive narrative focus on Burroughs' real life drug problems while still allowing him to examine the nature of addiction.  Lee shoots and kills Joan in a game of William Tell (a biographical element), and then things begin to get weird - really weird, even by Cronenberg's standards.

     Lee descends into a hallucinatory world called Interzone, a world at once both familiar and alien.  Interzone is a world filled with talking, beetle-like typewriters, paranoid conspiracy theories, deviant sexuality, and Mugwumps spouting fluids from the tops of their heads.  It's a world both fully imagined and specific in its details - a fascinating place to visit, but you wouldn't want to stay.  Cronenberg does weave a pitch black thread of humor throughout, though, an element it seems many of the movie's detractors fail to recognize.

     Though often nearly impenetrable, Naked Lunch is probably Cronenberg's most surreal and ambitious movie.  It's a difficult movie to capsulize, and it's equally difficult to forget. 


Crash 1996 movie poster

Crash (1996)

     Cronenberg tackled difficult and provocative source material again with his adaptation of the 1973 novel Crash by J.G. Ballard, and the result was probably the most controversial and polarizing movie in his filmography.  Earning an NC-17 rating at the time of its release, Crash tells the story of a group of people - most of whom are car crash victims - who take sexual pleasure from automobile accidents.  

      Television producer James Ballard (James Spader) is involved in a head-on collision that kills the other car's passenger.  While recovering from his injuries he begins an extramarital affair with Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), the other car's driver and wife of the deceased passenger.  Their affair is born of their shared experience of the accident and their subsequent sexual arousal based upon it.  Ballard and Remington ultimately find themselves part of an underground sub-culture of car crash fetishists headed by cult leader Vaughn (Elias Koteas), who claims to be interested in "the reshaping of the human body by modern technology".  

     Cronenberg relates his narrative largely by the way of the numerous sex scenes throughout the movie, an unusual structure to utilize outside of the confines of pornography.  Many of the film's detractors would argue that the structure is appropriate because Crash is, in fact, pornographic.  In particular, much of the negative criticism leveled at Crash decries the close associations it makes between violence and sexuality.  The movie itself seems to make no judgement, presenting its subject matter in a flat and voyeuristic fashion that invites examination rather than involvement.

     On a purely personal note that I feel is somehow relevant, Crash just happens to be the movie I was watching when my ex-wife announced that she was leaving me.  Given that much of the thrust of its narrative revolves around the examination of stagnant intimate relationships and the extremes to which its protagonists go to revitalize them, I've always felt like the universe was having a bit of fun at my expense with that less than subtle juxtaposition.  It turns out that I could not possibly have felt more emotionally dead inside when viewing Crash for the first time, an apt state of mind in which to consider its message.


Existenz movie poster

 eXistenZ (1999)

     Cronenberg at last lightens up bit for eXistenZ, the sci-fi leaning tale of Allegra Gellar (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the world's greatest game designer.  Gellar has created a virtual reality game called eXistenZ, played with organic game pods that players jack into via umbilical cords plugged into "bio-ports" surgically installed in the players' spines.  Gellar is shot in the shoulder during a focus group testing of the game by an assassin using an organic gun.  The game pod containing the only copy of the new game is damaged during the assassination attempt, as well.  

     Gellar and security guard Ted Pikul (Jude Law) embark upon on an odyssey through the virtual world of eXistenZ to test the damaged game, and the real and virtual worlds become nearly indistinguishable.  The pair struggles to keep themselves one step ahead of the forces intending to  assassinate Gellar to halt the introduction of eXistenZ to the world.  Everyone is a player, and no-one is really who they seem.  

     Cronenberg re-examines many of his recurring themes here, and it's easy enough to view eXistenZ as a less dour companion piece to VideodromeOnce again the lines blur between reality and fantasy, and again that schism is set in motion by technology that's uncomfortably organic in nature, implying that we're being slowly transformed by our relationship with technology in ways that we often neither anticipate nor fully understand.  It's the New Flesh in the form of a multi-player video game.  Even the organic gun that figures prominently in eXistenZ recalls Max Renn's fleshy "handgun" in Videodrome.

     Recycled themes notwithstanding, eXistenZ serves as a neat summation of Cronenberg's preoccupations during his genre years.  Additionally, it displays more of Cronenberg's skewed humor than we've seen in the past.  While not Cronenberg's strongest effort, eXistenZ is still well worth a watch.


      While David Cronenberg continues to produce intelligent and compelling work - A History Of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007), A Dangerous Method (2011) - he's been absent from the horror genre in which he made his name for well over a decade now.  That's a shame.  Cronenberg always recognized the genre movie as an apt forum for discussion of subject matter that might otherwise be considered difficult or taboo, and we need more visionaries who recognize that potential.

     Here's hoping he comes back to us some day.

November 30, 2012

The Cult Of Clovis - A Movies At Dog Farm Tribute To The Greatest Horror Cat Of All Time

sparks the cat as clovis from sleepwalkers
Sparks the Cat, American Badass
‎     You can keep General the Cat from Cat's Eye.  Church the Cat from Pet Semetary is a pretender to the throne.  The greatest horror cat of all time is, was, and always will be Sparks the Cat as Clovis from Sleepwalkers.                    
     From his humble beginnings in the pound to the superstardom that accompanied his award worthy performance in Sleepwalkers, Sparks was the epitome of the rags to riches Hollywood success story. Working only for spoonfuls of baby food and a pure love of the craft, Sparks first came to prominence as Lucky on t.v.'s Alf. Although he was only one of five cats that played the role during the four year run of the show, Sparks' professionalism and laid back demeanor guaranteed that he was always the lead Lucky. 

     He parlayed this success to noteworthy turns in both Purina and Fresh Step commercials before his triumph on the big screen as Clovis, surely the pinnacle of his awe-inspiring career. 

     Thanks to for the Clovis hero shot accompanying this post.

November 29, 2012

Movies At Dog Farm Retrospective: Friday The 13th Part II (1981) - Best Of The Friday Franchise?

     The original Friday The 13th (1980) scared the hell out of me when I saw it as an impressionable ten year old at the now long defunct Harrisonburg Drive-In.  It's funny, now, to imagine that I was ever frightened by a Friday, but I had no idea at the time that a movie could be so . . . graphic.  This was the first hard horror movie I'd ever seen, and make-up ace Tom Savini showed me things in great, gory detail that my innocent young mind had never imagined.  The arrow through Kevin Bacon's neck from beneath the bunk haunted me (dammit, I knew something was under my bed), and Jason emerging from the lake at the end (". . . then he's still there. . ." - echo and fade) worked on my brain like the finest campfire tale.

    The next year was a formative one for me.  Despite how terrified I'd been by the murders at Crystal Lake, I began to cajole my mostly obliging parents to take me to every new slasher movie that opened.  That was a lot of movies - this was the height of the early 80's slasher boom, after all.  I'll always be grateful for having discovered contemporary horror at such a pivotal moment in genre history.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the TV ads began running for Friday The 13th Part II (1981).  Oh, happy day!  I never dared dream that the body count would continue.  I'd toughened up in the interceding year, and I was ready to revisit the horror that started it all.  I conned my mother into taking me to the theater on opening weekend.  Lights go down, opening titles blow up, Henry Manfredini's iconic score kicks in, and we're off!

     Friday The 13th Part II always seemed to me to be the scariest of the franchise.  Undoubtedly, the peculiar mix of excitement and dread I carried into the theater with me gave it some added juice, but still . . .  To this day, I expect to find a severed head every time I open the fridge.  It always spooked me that Jason ventured out of the woods to track down and kill the only survivor of Part I, as well.  Think what we now know of Jason.  Premeditation has never really been his strong suit.  Then he takes the boiling tea pot off the burner after killing Alice?  These are the actions of a more deliberate and thoughtful slasher than we came to know later.  Jason had a very specific axe to grind in Part II, and his calculating nature made him a more formidable and frightening threat.  Hell, he'd even run after his victims if the circumstance dictated it. 
     I know I'm in the minority on this point, but I always preferred Jason's The Town That Dreaded Sundown look to the now iconic hockey mask, as well.  This looked like the pick-axe toting hillbilly I wouldn't want to meet in the woods at night.  You just know something awful is going on under that potato sack - who wears a sack over his head otherwise? 

      Best of all, though, Jason begins to give us a clear indication of  his own moral imperatives.  He wouldn't kill a guy in a wheelchair, right?  Mark's machete-in-the-face backward wheelchair ride down a lot of stairs, never tipping over until the chilling freeze frame and fade to white, proves otherwise.     
       Jason's first two-for-one kill of copulating teens - trimmed to avoid an X rating, and very reminiscent of a murder set piece in Mario Bava's Twitch Of The Death Nerve (1971) - also betrays a very puritanical upbringing.  Seriously, imagine what kind of mother Mrs. Vorhees would have been.  The indication of some kind of inner life for Jason that drives his murderous impulses is way scarier than the hockey masked comic book character that came later.  As slapdash as much of Part II is, it gets a lot right.  Jenny's contemplation in the local bar of Jason's psychological state as dictated by the traumas he's endured humanizes him just enough to make him that much scarier.  Now we know he has an agenda.  
      . . . and speaking of things Part II gets right:  Jenny is easily the very best of the Friday Final Girls.  She's likable, smart, engaging, and entirely capable of handling her own pitchfork.  I remember being very disappointed that Jenny didn't at least make a pre-credit appearance in Part 3.  Then I remember watching the rest of Part 3 and realizing that was only the tip of the disappointment iceberg.  So was Friday The 13th Part II the best of the Friday franchise?  Well, The Final Chapter competes, but I believe Part II takes the prize.  Please discuss.

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