March 28, 2013

How (Not) To Raise A Psychopathic Child - Things I've Learned From Watching A&E's New Bates Motel

Ad for A&E's new series Bates Motel     It's been difficult to watch a full-length feature film for a while.  There's now a three week old infant in the room  most nights, and he sets the schedules.  His scheduling doesn't include too many ninety minute blocks of downtime, so I've been making due with hour long horror dramas like American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, and A&E's new Bates Motel.  I can almost get through an hour long episode during Gunnar's between feedings nap time.  I'm looking forward to the debut of Eli Roth's Hemlock Grove on Netflix next month, too.  Should I be watching this kind of programming with a baby in the room, though?

     Yeah, I know, it's probably a bit early to be worrying about whether or not the baby is being irreparably damaged by exposure to televised horror programs.  For one thing, he's unable to hold his head up long enough to watch anything.  The only time he displays any neck strength at all is when I'm trying to burp him, and then he seems determined to throw a red-faced skunk eye on me throughout.  He can hold his head up just fine for that.  Still, I know he's cognizant of what's going on around him.  It makes me wonder if immediate and prolonged exposure to this kind of entertainment explains what happened to me . . .

Thom Yorke of the band Radiohead
Thom Yorke of Radiohead - Hey, man, are you OK?
     The baby seems to have an affinity for the music of Radiohead already, and I attribute that to the fact that he heard a lot of Radiohead while still in utero.  If Thom Yorke's solo album calms the baby,  I'm more than happy to store that in the arsenal alongside his swaddling cloth and his Bippy.  Whatever works, right?  Then I'm watching the first episode of Bates Motel - while holding the baby, of course - while onscreen the young Master Bates attends a high school party (wait - what?), and waddayaknow, the music playing in the background is a Radiohead song.  . . . so a young Norman Bates + exposure to Radiohead = Psycho.  And I'm playing the kid Radiohead to soothe him.   Nature versus nurture.  I may as well start collecting small animals for Gunnar to kill.

     Of course, Norman's problems are the result of a far more complex set of circumstances than just the music he hears.  I watched the second episode of Bates Motel last night, and I nearly crawled out of my skin with "eeeew!" when Norman's mother very nonchalantly stripped clothing in front of her teenage son.  Sure, in this case we know this is heading to a bad place, but . . .   Only an hour or so before I'd been holding the baby because he'd been particularly fussy.  I'd finally succeeded in getting him to momentarily settle down and rest, his next feeding was in the warmer, and I didn't want to rouse him unnecessarily before his bottle was ready.  Here's the rub:  I really, really needed to pee.  If I laid him down he would immediately open his eyes and fuss.  Well, I can hold the baby with one hand, and I can pee with one hand, sooooo . . . Don't judge me - I wasn't wearing a diaper.

Norma Bates cleans up a murder scene in A&E's Bates Motel
Norma Bates doing some household cleaning
   Still though, I've yet to enlist Gunnar's assistance in cleaning up a murder scene, so maybe there's still hope.  As long as I continue to tend to those chores solo then everything should be just fine.  That'll also forestall the touching family moment we have prior to disposing of a dead body in the lake together.  As far as I know, Gunnar doesn't yet have a sketchbook full of bondage pics hidden under his bassinet, so we're good there, too.

     I just want the little guy to grow up healthy and happy.  I want the same for young Norman.  Maybe there's hope for him, too.  The show's producers have already made clear that they won't necessarily be beholden to canon based upon Anthony Perkins' portrayal of the character.  Is it possible that we live in a world where the young Norman Bates might somehow escape his dour fate, upbringing be damned?   I actually think that would be weirdly inspiring.  If there's hope for the most psychopathic fictional mama's boy that ever misused the cutlery, then maybe there's a chance I won't do too much damage to the wee baby Gunnar. 

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates at the end of Psycho
We can fix this, right?

March 18, 2013

Best Of The Big Lots Bargain Bin - Paul Bartel's Private Parts (1972)

     Being a horror fan is hard work sometimes.  The older I get, the harder it becomes.  We horror fans have voracious appetites, and every movie we add to our "watched" lists makes it that much harder to find the next one.  The pool dwindles.  We end up exploring oddly specific subgenres out of desperation, feeling all the while that there truly is nothing new under the sun.  The law of diminishing returns kicks in - previously unwatched content isn't necessarily good content.  In fact, if a movie is any good it's almost a lock that we've already seen it.  We live for the occasional unheralded gem, the odd little surprise that somehow previously escaped notice.

     When we unearth one of these buried treasures, we're obliged to share with others in our community, other horror junkies jonesing for their next fix.  I'm pretty sure that's how cult movies are born.  I submit for your consideration the late Paul Bartel's feature directorial debut, Private Parts (1972).

     I became a big fan of the Big Lots DVD dump bins a few years ago while enduring some nasty medical problems that left me perpetually broke and frequently homebound.  I'd previously been one of those guys who regularly burned through piles of money on new DVD releases, and I simply didn't have the finances to keep doing that.  Movies from the dump bins were only three dollars a pop, and they satisfied my compulsion to buy new DVDs without breaking the bank. Admittedly, though, my excavations frequently yielded pretty sorry results.  They also often encouraged me to sample titles I might've otherwise passed by, perfectly worthwhile titles that had found their way to the dump bins simply because their availability outstripped consumer demand.

Actress Ayn Ruymen as Cheryl Stratton in Paul Bartel's Private Parts (1972)
The lovely young Ayn Ruymen as Cheryl Stratton
     I'd never even heard of Private Parts prior to finding it in a dump bin, and that made me wary right off the bat.  Most of the titles I dug from the bins I at least had an awareness of.  This was completely unknown to me.  I'd recently fished out a copy of Paul Bartel's Eating Raoul (1982), probably his most critically lauded work as a director, and I'd been underwhelmed.  It was broad and silly.  Had the pickings not been slim that day, I probably would not have given Private Parts a shot.  After watching it, I was perplexed as to how I'd never heard mention of it before because I was delighted by what I found.

     I should pause here to make clear that Private Parts isn't a game changer.  It's an odd, funky, and morbidly funny exercise in weirdness.  It's at once familiar and unique.  It brings to mind the movies of Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage) in its casual, good-natured sleaziness.  I suspect it was a hard movie to market, and perhaps that's why it fell through the cracks.

Developing a photograph of Cheryl from Paul Bartel's Private Parts (1972)
Developing Cheryl in the basement darkroom
     Private Parts tells the story of teenage runaway Cheryl Stratton (Ayn Ruymen) who finds herself homeless in Los Angeles after she quarrels with her roommate.  She winds up in a skid-row hotel run by her peculiar, morally rigid Aunt Martha (Lucille Benson) and populated by an assortment of  loonies.  One odd and reclusive tenant, a photographer named George (John Ventantonio), takes a rather unwholesome interest in Cheryl.  Then the bodies start piling up, and Cheryl soon realizes why Aunt Martha is so uptight, George is so weird, and everyone else is so dead.  To say more of the plot would ruin the fun.

love doll from Paul Bartel's Private Parts (1972)
George's "significant other"
     Private Parts possesses that special "pushing the envelope" vibe peculiar to movies from the 1970s, and it boasts at least one showstopping set piece involving a blow up doll, a syringe, and an unsavory exchange of bodily fluids that's guaranteed to make even jaded horror fans squirm a little.  It's an uncomfortable viewing experience that lingers in the mind.  The movie also paints an especially grotty and lived in picture of L.A. that provides a strong sense of time and place.  Aunt Martha's squalid, creepy old King Edward Hotel is a character itself - a sad, dilapidated affair that still hints at the fabulous showplace it undoubtedly once was.

Lucille Benson as Aunt Martha in Paul Bartel's Private Parts (1972)
Lucille Benson as Aunt Martha
     Speaking of characters, Private Parts earns much of its unique atmosphere from a series of nicely detailed and mildly overstated performances, with Lucille Benson's Aunt Martha being an obvious standout.  Benson is one of those wonderfully talented character actresses that you'll recognize instantly but have difficulty placing.   Viewers of a certain age will likely remember her from the short lived 1980s Tom Hanks sitcom Bosom Buddies, wherein she played essentially the same role, albeit with less emphasis on the cracked extremes.  Horror fans will most likely remember her as the dowdy, sandwich making housewife that provides Michael Myers with his first shiny new piece of cutlery at the start of Halloween II (1981).

Laurie Main as Reverend Moon in Paul Bartel's Private Parts (1972)
Laurie Main as the Reverend Moon
     There's also Reverend Moon, the jovial tenant with a thing for refrigerator repairman, played by Laurie Main.  Close your eyes and listen to his voice - he's the narrator from Winnie The Pooh, as well as the story reader on many Disney produced read-along CDs and cassettes.  Watch for a brief appearance by Stanley Livingston, as well, who played Chip Douglas in the long running television sitcom My Three Sons.

     Private Parts is perverse, funny, and atmospheric, and it stands as one of my all-time favorite bargain bin finds.  Be advised, though - you'll want to steer clear of the trailer prior to watching the movie, which is why I haven't provided a link to it here.  Just trust me, this demented little flick is well worth any genre fan's time, and it's truly worthy of a cult following.

                  Up next in the Best Of The Big Lots Bargain Bin series:  Demon Seed (1977)

March 17, 2013

What's Crack-A-Lackin' On Crackle

     I rarely watch anything on the streaming service Crackle because (as with Hulu Plus) I find the clumsily inserted advertising annoying.  Crackle - owned by Sony and readily available for free on many Sony branded renderers - does occasionally offer up something interesting, though.  A bonus is that the movies are presented uncut (save for those annoying ads, of course).  Below are a handful of interesting picks currently available.

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) thumbnail
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

If you have only a casual interest in Godzilla movies, this all-star Toho monster fest that celebrated the big G's 50th Anniversary is a real treat.  It offers at least a peek at just about every Kaiju to ever make an appearance in a Toho production, moves at a brisk pace, and is almost wall to wall monster action.  It even features a cameo from the CGI American version of Godzilla introduced  in the 1998 big budget misfire - treated here as being distinct from the "real" Godzilla.  Big, dumb fun.

Lovecraft: Fear Of The Unkown (2008) thumbnail
Lovecraft: Fear Of The Unknown (2008)

Crackle pays service to my insatiable hunger for horror documentaries by offering up this exceptionally good doc about the life and work of horror lit titan H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the enduring Cthulu Mythos.  This doc lays bare Lovecraft's well documented racism without minimizing the significance of his writing because of it, and it features a wealth of talking head testimonials from the likes of John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and Guillermo Del'Toro.  

Midnight Movie (2008) thumbnail Midnight Movie (2008)

A midnight showing of a 1970's horror movie turns to bloody chaos when the killer depicted in the movie steps into the real world.  There's nothing you haven't seen here before, but this is a straight up old school slasher competently constructed.  No postmodern deconstruction, no winking at the camera.  At a brisk 84 minutes, you could do worse - and you probably have.

Silent Scream (1980) thumbnail
Silent Scream (1980) 

This one is truly a forgotten gem.  It stars Barbara Steele, Yvonne De Carlo, Avery Schreiber, Cameron Mitchell, and Rebecca Balding in a creepy, slow burning homage to Psycho.  The mysterious family secrets hidden away in a spooky seaside mansion slowly reveal themselves, leading to a fantastic final act free for all.  There's virtually no gore, but you won't miss it.  Probably actually too good to watch interrupted by ads . . .

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) thumbnail
 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

TCM co-creator Kim Henkel wrote and directed this giant slice of WTF you have to see at least once if only for the freak show buzz of catching not-yet-stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey payin' the bills.  McConaughey's over the top turn as the psychotic Vilmer almost makes this worthwhile.  There's a TCM reunion in the final scene, too, featuring cameos by Chainsaw vets Paul Partain (Franklin Hardesty), John Dugan (Grandpa), and Marilyn Burns (Sally Hardesty).


March 14, 2013

"You may call me Hitch. Hold the Cock." - Hitchcock (2012) Review

Hitchcock (2012) poster version 2
     Hitchcock (2012) came and went with nary a peep last year, and I'd be lying if I said I couldn't see why.  It's a Hollywood style biopic, with all the attendant strengths and weaknesses that entails.  The biopic has fallen from favor in recent years, and I attribute that in large part to the merciless skewering the form received at the hands of the underappreciated - yet widely seen - Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007).  Even casual viewers have grown wise to the narrative beats of the Hollywood biopic and recognize the associated tropes and cliches.  Granted, Hitch never sank to the same melodramatic extremes found in the lives of many biopic subjects, but Hitchcock does suffer from an overriding sense of familiarity.

     Hitchcock isn't a traditional biopic, though, insofar as it doesn't attempt to address the entirety of Hitch's career.  The movie concerns itself with the time period beginning and ending with the production of Psycho (1960), a watershed event in both Hitch's filmography as well as the history of cinema itself.  Hitchcock further skews from form in the sense that the narrative, ostensibly about Hitch himself, is in fact predominately about his wife Alma Reville.  Nothing wrong with that, mind you, particularly when Alma is portrayed by the always incredible Helen Mirren.  There's loads of entertainment value to be had just from watching old pros Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren doing what they do so well.  Still, it's not hard to see how a viewer could be disappointed by the overall experience Hitchcock provides.

     The narrative never delves very deeply into just what exactly made Hitchcock tick, and that's a glaring deficiency.  Hitch was larger than life, a droll and morbid misogynist with a pitch black sense of humor, and though Hopkins delivers a typically solid performance, the script fails him.  Hitch's creative process here is portrayed largely by way of a rather awkward narrative conceit in which he shares on ongoing internal dialog with Ed Gein, the infamous real-life nutjob upon whom Robert Bloch's novel Psycho was based.  It's a reach, and it never really succeeds in illuminating Hitch's creative process.  It's a conceit that reeks of Screenwriting 101 and never manages to feel organic or germane.

Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock on the set of Psycho - Hitchcock (2012)
Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock on the set of Psycho
     Perhaps more damning, however, are inaccurate details about the filming of Psycho that even a casual fan of Hitch's work will be likely to notice.  For example, composer Bernard Herrmann's iconic string accompaniment to Psycho's shower scene is treated as an afterthought.  While it's true that Hitch initially wanted no musical accompaniment for the scene, it's egregiously dismissive for the movie to treat its ultimate inclusion as though it was just hasty, ill-considered happenstance.  Hitchcock also presents the meticulous creation of the shower scene, which took a week of set-ups and filming, as though it occurred in a single frenzied outburst performed by Hitch himself.  Perhaps that serves the dramatization of this film's narrative, but you're begging criticism when you play fast and loose with the details of one of the most thoroughly documented and scrutinized scene shoots in the history of the medium.

     Still, though, I'd also be lying if I said I didn't enjoy Hitchcock.  Performances are strong throughout, particularly a brief and sublimely perfect perf by James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins.  Ralph (The Karate Kid) Macchio contributes a fun cameo as screenwriter Joseph Stefano, as well.  Hopkins has fun delivering some suitably Hitchcockian bon mots like the one in this article's title, and Hitchcock is loaded with moments that likely aren't accurate, but feel like they ought to be.  I laughed aloud at the scene in which Hitch and his agent are brokering their deal for Psycho with Paramount head Barney Balaban and Hitch pulls out his checkbook to bankroll the project himself.  Sure, it's patented Hollywood myth-building hokum, but it's entertaining hokum.  Hitchcock is recommended, but temper your expectations.

Hitchcock (2012) silhouette
Hollywood Myth Building - Hitchcock (2012)

March 13, 2013

MADF Update: Lord Of Tears (2012)

The Owl Man from Lawrie Brewster's Lord Of Tears
The Owl Man Cometh!
    Lord Of Tears is gathering steam.  One particularly exciting development is that the movie has been accepted into the San Diego Comic Fest for a screening in October.  Even better news:  you can pre-order your copy here and see it months before that.  You want to be on the bleeding edge of the new hotness, right?
    Director Lawrie Brewster was kind enough to provide the Dog Farm with some fantastic pics of the movie's creepy Owl Man taken at a Victorian Children's Hospital.  If you really like that iconic Owl Man costume - and you know you do - it could be yours for a price.  Check out the details at the link for pre-orders  above.

     The trailer has garnered praise from some genre heavy hitters, as well.  Much to my delight, a quote from the humble Dog Farm has somehow been posted on the Lord Of Tears Kickstarter page above a quote from Barbara (Re-Animator, From Beyond) Crampton.  How can I not support a project that's done me the solid of putting me on top of the lovely Ms. Crampton?  Cheers, Mr. Brewster.

March 7, 2013

The Devil's Rock (2011) - Nazi Worst

The Devil's Rock (2011) poster
     The Devil's Rock (2011) is definitely "Nazi worst" World War II occult mash-up ever, though I suppose that atrocious pun is probably punishable as a war crime.  What can I say - it's been a long week, and several consecutive nights of too little sleep is catching up with me.  This was put on with the intent that it would serve as "white noise" to mask my tinnitus and hopefully lull me to sleep with its hopeless inadequacy.  Seriously, look at that poster . . .  I really thought I was about to be served something way sillier and more exploitative than what I got.  Then I got sucked in by this tale of Nazis, double-crosses, and scheming succubi.  Who knew?

     First time director and co-writer Paul Campion masks his modest budget well by using limited locations and a cast of only about half a dozen performers.  There's nothing wrong with that if you can tell a compelling story with limited resources, and he does.  One Nazi, one Kiwi, and one succubus summoned forth in the service of an occult driven German master plan to unleash Hell on Earth - what more do you really need to make a solid, pulpy little thriller?  Figure in solid, serious minded performances from the three principals and a fun demon design provided by the Weta Workshop, and you've got yourself a pretty solid little B movie.

The Devil's Rock (2011) the succubus in human form
What lonely soldier wouldn't fall for this?
     Campion sprinkles in a sufficient number of allusions to actual events to lend the The Devil's Rock authenticity, but what really sold it for me was a central narrative built around the conceit that the demon feeds upon the loneliness inherent in wartime.  You see, being separated from loved ones - or worse yet, losing loved ones altogether - leaves the grunts on both sides of the ideological spectrum easy prey for the succubus.  No one wants to be alone, right?

     The older I get, the more sensitive I become to that theme.  Being, I suspect, well past middle age now, the notion of growing old alone terrifies me more and more with every passing year.  Would I be tempted by an offer of even the semblance of happiness?  Would I sell out my principles for the opportunity to grow old with a cherished other that I thought was gone from my life forever?  That pause for reflection keeps getting longer . . . Like the succubus herself, The Devil's Rock economically preys on that most human of  weaknesses.  What a vile and insidious weapon that would be - and it can work even when you know it's being used against you.

The Devil's Rock (2011) demon giving head
A Nazi giving head to the demon.  This relationship is doomed to failure.

       Of course, getting your head bitten off is bad, too.  The Devil's Rock works on a lot of levels.

March 1, 2013

Gunnar Nathaniel Cupp Has Arrived!

mystery man with a swaddled eggplant
Is this the baby Gunnar?  . . . and who's that handsome man?
     Followers of the Farm have heard me make numerous references here to my best friend Adrienne Cupp and her impending delivery.  Well, Gunnar Nathaniel Cupp made good his arrival at 8:49 a.m. today.  Gunnar is 6 lbs. 2.5 oz. and just over 18 inches long.  Mommy and baby Gunnar are both happy and healthy.

     Out of deference to Adrienne's wishes, I won't be sharing any pictures of the delivery.  The internet is full of weirdos - present company excluded, of course - and I suppose I can understand why she's chosen to keep such an intimate experience private.  The picture at right is from my camera.  It depicts a devilishly handsome older gentleman sitting in a hospital glider cradling what could be a baby, could be a swaddled honeydew.  I'll draw your attention to the goofy ass smile on the man's face and advise you to infer what you will.

     This is probably as close as I'll ever get to being a proud Papa, and I couldn't be happier - shaken and nervous, but happy.  Every step of Adrienne's pregnancy was a learning experience for me, but I'm sure my learning has only just begun.  I'm probably still going to get my ass crawled for this post, but dammit, I'm too happy and proud to not take to the rooftops.  I suppose the one thing I have going in my favor here is that Adrienne never looks at this page unless I specifically ask her to.  Nobody reads this page, right?

     Big congratulations to Adrienne, and a big welcome to Gunnar!  I'm so proud of you, Adrienne, and I love you and baby Gunnar more than you know.  I'm misting up as I type this.  Thank you so much for allowing me to be part of this.

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