May 30, 2013

Barking At The Vacuum Cleaner - Bates Motel, Hemlock Grove, The LAMB, And More . . .

Bates Motel vacancy sign
We'll leave the light on . . .
     I loved Bates Motel, and I'm already eagerly anticipating Season 2.  Season 1 was a little bit of a train wreck, but it was an entertaining train wreck.  The soapy narrative twists kept me anxious each week for the next episode.  I think it's great that Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates isn't afraid to "go large" with her characterization.

     Did Norman kill Miss Watson?  I think not, but we'll find out when Season 2 hits in 2014.         


    On the other hand, I was surprised by how underwhelmed I was by the Eli Roth produced Netflix series Hemlock Grove.  Full disclosure:  I've only watched the first episode, and I'm just not real tore up about watching the second one.  Shelley the mute deformed giant is the only character introduced that piqued my interest at all.  Am I missing out?  Was I too inpatient for greatness to reveal itself?

Hemlock Grove title card
What happened, Eli?
     Maybe Roth will redeem himself with his producing/writing/acting efforts in the newly released Aftershock (2013).  I'm also looking forward to The Green Inferno (2013), his forthcoming directorial effort born of his love for Mondo movies.


     I'm pleased to announce that Movies At Dog Farm is now officially LAMB #1565 in The Large Association Of Movie Blogs (The LAMB).     Thanks for having me, folks!
Reel Terror by David Konow book cover
     I've gotten two new books, and I have a third on the way.  I've only gotten about a hundred pages into Reel Terror by David Konow, and so far, so good.  So many authors have tackled the Universal horror classics, EC Comics, Psycho, and other horror movie signposts that it's difficult to dig up fresh material.  Konow frequently makes use of quotes from pertinent individuals to illustrate his points, and it's always a hoot reading Christopher Lee explain once more why Hammer's Dracula ceased to speak in the latter movies.

Horror! 333 Films To Scare You To Death by James Marriott & Kim Newman      Book number two is Horror! 333 Films To Scare You To Death by James Marriott and Kim Newman.  Newman frequently appears as a "talking head" in my beloved horror movie documentaries.  I read Newman's Nightmare Movies last year, so I decided to give this one a shot, too.  I've yet to crack this one, so I'll have to get back to you . . .

     Book number three, as yet undelivered, is 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die by Steven Jay Schneider.

     Finally, Don Coscarelli's John Dies At The End (2012) is currently available on Netflix streaming.  Watch it now if you haven't already.  Watch it again if you have.  Highly recommended.

May 20, 2013

Planet Of The Apes (1968) - Monkey Business With Adrienne Cupp

Planet Of The Apes (1968) poster     I recorded a victory last night.  Much to my surprise, Adrienne expressed an interest in watching  Planet Of The Apes (1968).  Even more stunning - she liked it.  A lot.

     I realize this probably doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but Adrienne has long expressed to me an aversion to sci-fi movies.  I've never protested much because she's always been very tolerant of my appetite for horror.  She doesn't always see the value of every horror movie that I like, but we've watched enough horror together over the years that I've gotten a pretty good feel for which ones she's likely to enjoy.  The corollary of that is that I've also developed a sense of which horror movies I should just go ahead and watch on my own.  If  I don't subject her to too many horror movies that I know she isn't going to like, she continues to be willing to watch the ones I think she might like.  It's a delicate balance.  Because I'm already fighting the battle on that front, I've never pushed very hard with the sci-fi movies.

Cornelius, Dr. Zira, and Taylor in Planet Of The Apes (1968)
Taylor (Charlton Heston) with Cornelius and Dr. Zira
     She gave me an in, though.  She enjoyed the recent reboot of the franchise, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011), and apparently that piqued her interest in seeing the original.  Charlton Heston starring in the original probably only sweetened the pot.  Heston is kind of like a gateway drug for people who don't like sci-fi.  He clearly isn't a man who's going to tolerate any foolishness, so his participation is a seal of approval for the non-fanboys.  Moses wouldn't let his people wander aimlessly for forty years in the realm of science fiction, right?  Heston always gets everyone on board by playing to the cheap seats.  Could anyone have growled "Get your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" with more badass conviction?  

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil from Planet Of The Apes (1968)
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil - a surprisingly funny moment from Planet Of The Apes (1968)

     In particular, though, Adrienne was pleased by the fact that her mind was engaged while watching Planet Of The Apes.  I believe it was eye opening for her to realize that sci-fi isn't all just ray guns, robots, and light shows.  She's anxious to watch the rest of the franchise now, and I'm excited to be watching them again with someone who's excited to be seeing them for the first time.

The Statue Of Liberty comes into view at the end of Planet Of The Apes (1968)
The iconic final moments of Planet Of The Apes (1968)
     The best part of this episode for me was the fact that Adrienne had no prior knowledge of the twist ending that closes Planet Of The Apes.  I was surprised because I suppose I thought it was one of those pop culture things that everyone knows by osmosis, even if they've never seen the movie.  *SPOILER*  I can't even express what a pleasure it was to watch Adrienne see the buried Statue Of Liberty come into view and suddenly have everything she'd just watched fall into place.  I envied her.  I guess in a few years I can once again experience that moment  vicariously when I get to share Planet Of The Apes with Gunnar for the first time.

     Is it weird that I'm most looking forward to watching "the ape out of water" entry Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971) again?

a Planet Of The Apes treehouse playset
I had this when I was a kid.  You're jealous, aren't you?

May 14, 2013

Movies At Dog Farm Trailer Park, Volume II - May 14, 2013

     I was pleasantly surprised by Mama (2013).  I'm not sure why it was so harshly received.  It's rare that I'm able to watch a movie knowing almost nothing about it beforehand.  In this case I knew only that Guillermo Del Toro's name was attached (Executive Producer) and that it had something to do with feral children.  Though secondary plot threads are clumsily integrated, I was otherwise enchanted.
     Does enchanted seem an odd word to use to describe a horror movie?  Well, I believe many of the harsher reviews stemmed from the fact that the reviewers didn't seem to understand that this was a fairy tale.  I'm not sure how people who get paid to review movies for a living failed to catch that.  It seemed pretty obvious to me.  Mama has a strong emotional core.  It benefits greatly from the viewer's investment in the characters.  Many scenes - including the conclusion of the movie that a number of  reviewers deemed overwrought - are, in fact, downright touching.

     There was a lot of carping about the CGI in Mama, too.  Once again, if a viewer recognizes and accepts that Mama is a fairy tale, those complaints are unfounded.  Did Mama always look photo realistic?  Well, no, she didn't, but she was a fantasy character, so the complaints about the CGI are moot. 

     Don't worry, though.  Mama packs in the scares, too.  Adrienne watched it with me, and she caught me several times with a big, goofy grin on my face because I was so tickled by how technically well constructed many of the scares were.  Director Andres Muschietti makes effective use of shot composition and carefully timed reveals of pertinent details to get the most from his shocks.  If only more directors understood the mechanics of good cinematic terror.  Critics be damned, Mama is one of the most satisfying genre movies I've seen this year.

     . . . and then there was The Lords Of Salem (2012).

     I understand why Rob Zombie is a perennial whipping boy on genre websites, but I think at least some of the scorn regularly heaped on him is undeserved.  Yeah, he's got a tin ear for dialog.  In fact, the biggest favor Zombie could do for himself is finally deign to direct someone else's screenplay.  Still, he's got a distinctive aesthetic and a damn good eye for memorable shot composition.  At the very least, I always look forward to seeing what he's going to do next.  Admittedly, I look forward to what he's going to do next in the hopes that it will finally deliver on the promise shown in House Of 1000 Corpses (2003).

     The Lords Of Salem still doesn't quite deliver, but Zombie is getting better.  He's reigned in the superfluous cameos by genre vets.  At least some of the cameos this go round wound up on the cutting room floor.  He attempts - and occasionally achieves - a tone of creeping dread markedly different from his previous efforts.  And he does achieve several of those memorable visuals.  Some are memorable for the wrong reasons, but still . . . The last fifteen minutes or so of The Lords Of Salem is one of the most memorable examples of WTF cinema I've seen in a long while.  You take the good, you take the bad.  I hope Zombie doesn't abandon genre movies altogether - as he claimed in recent interviews that he intends to - because I truly still believe he has a brilliant genre movie in him.  . . . and no, The Devil's Rejects (2005)  wasn't that movie.

     Sightseers (2012) delivers pitch black humor, random acts of violence, and two versions of "Tainted Love". 'Nuf said. See it.

     Apologies to Bob for the non-Creature Feature post, but this had already been brewing for a while.  I've been finding marginally more time to watch movies lately than to write about them, so this was a bit of "catch up".

May 13, 2013

Movies At Dog Farm Retrospective: The Beast Within (1982)

The Beast Within (1982) poster
The Beast Within (1982)
     For Halloween 2006 I created a week long series of drive-in double features for my friends and co-workers, seamless programs of shorts, trailers, ads, cartoons, and movies.  The logistics of trying to mount such a program outdoors in October were untenable, but we did a pretty good job creating the vibe indoors.  I had an LED moon on my living room wall, and I created shadow lanterns with popcorn containers and candles to create flickering "stars" on the living room ceiling.  We had a "refreshment stand" set up in the kitchen with hot dogs, boxed candies, sodas, and popcorn.  Each night was themed, and the trailers shown during intermission advertised the movies scheduled for the following night.  The final double feature was Motel Hell (1980) and The Beast Within (1982), both of which I had the good fortune of seeing for the first time at the Skyline Drive-In The Beast Within is the epitome of a drive-in creature feature.  It's roots extend all the way back to the likes of I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), but with more rape, gore, and 1980s style bladder FX (all the rage at the time).  The Beast Within is incoherent, unrefined, and tacky.  It's a movie that simply wouldn't be made today.  Shortcomings notwithstanding, I love it dearly.

Ronny Cox and Bibi Besche in The Beast Within (1982)
Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besche)
     The Beast Within is the story of young Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), the now seventeen year old product of a wedding night rape near the small town of Nioba, Mississippi.  Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besche) have raised Michael as their own.  They've kept the details of the rape - perpetrated by a humanoid creature of some sort - to themselves in the intervening years. Now young Michael, seemingly normal up to this point, has become gravely ill owing to what his doctor describes as an out of control pituitary gland.  The doctor suggests Michael's illness may be genetic, and so Eli and Caroline return to Nioba to solve the mystery of who - or what - fathered Michael in the hopes of finding some insight into Michael's illness.

Paul Clemens in The Beast Within (1982)
Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), obviously feeling a little ill
     Several of Nioba's locals behave suspiciously when questioned about the rape, and it becomes clear that they know more than they're sharing about the particulars of Caroline's assailant.  Michael soon shows up in Nioba, as well, and the aforementioned locals begin to die in spectacularly gruesome fashion.  Michael shows himself to be his father's son during a show stopping transformation, then crashes through the wall and into the woods to track down another rape victim and repeat the cycle.  I've left the specifics of Michael's condition deliberately vague, because careening through the Scooby Doo style mystery surrounding Michael's true providence is half the fun.  It's also pretty freakin' vague in the movie, too, though it would seem that Michael is some kind of were-cicada.  Yeah, you read that correctly.

     Truth be told, The Beast Within has its fair share of flaws, not the least of which is the lack of narrative clarity.  Director Philippe Mora claims that United Artists cut several scenes that clarified key narrative points, and I'm inclined to believe that.  Screenwriter Tom Holland later wrote and directed both Fright Night (1985) and Child's Play (1988), as well as having written Psycho II (1983).  He's no hack, so I have to believe that whatever went wrong wasn't at the script level.  On the other hand, Philippe Mora later directed Howling III: The Marsupials (1987), so maybe . . .

The titular beast from The Beast Within (1982)
The beast comes out
     In fairness, though, Mora does give The Beast Within a nicely grotty southern gothic vibe throughout, and I have to assume he's at least a little responsible for the earnest and mostly pitch perfect performances that serve to elevate the movie above most others of its ilk.  One of the things I appreciate most about The Beast Within is that it's played completely straight, despite its inherently silly B movie creature feature pedigree.  It's refreshing to see a movie like this that doesn't wink at the camera or revel in how clever and meta it is.  There's a place for that, but it's nice to see a sincere attempt to just tell a story occasionally, too.  I think the fact that so many genre movies now are consumed with being self aware parodies is often just a cop out.  Filmmakers try to excuse ineffectual film making by hiding behind the notion that it's o.k. for their movies to be bad as long as they know they're bad.

The Beast Within (1982) transformation
Michael MacCleary, now obviously feeling a lot worse
     Of course, I've thus far tiptoed around the very best reason to seek out this particular creature feature, and that would be its creature.  More precisely, it would be Michael's transformation into said creature.  The creature itself is a perfectly adequate man in a suit affair, but Michael's final transformation into that creature is an orgy of latex, slime, bubbling bladders and excess.  Masterminded by FX vet Rob Burman, it's one of those glorious, only in the 80s examples of the narrative just coming to a halt so the FX man can show off his wares.  Burman pulls out all the stops, and the results are horror movie gold.  They just don't make 'em like this anymore.

     One final note:  when I was a youngster I purchased a special "magazine" published by Fangoria made up of horror movie postcards.  I distinctly remember that one of the postcards was an image of a black lab with a human arm in his mouth that had been culled from The Beast Within.  I tried unsuccessfully to find any record of this magazine, nor could I find an image of the postcard itself.  If any of my readers remember this or could point me in the right direction, I'd be much obliged.

Creature Feature Week Has Commenced! Call The Authorities! Multiple Sites Crawling With Monsters, Madness And Mayhem!

writhing earthworms
Wriggling, writhing grossness consumes the internet!

     My buddy Bob Mallett at Candy-Coated Razor Blades is coordinating a multi-site Creature Feature Week!  Check it out here for updated links to all the new content.  You'll see posts from me, Bob, and other members of the The Incredibly Strange Horror Bloggers Network, as well links to new friends The Big Gay Horror Show and Kweeny Todd.  Take the bait!

May 8, 2013

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013 R.I.P.

     I cried when I read the news at work today, and I'm misting up again as I write this.  It's heartbreaking to see your heroes pass on.  Thank you so much, Mr. Harryhausen.

Ray Harryhausen
Ray Harryhausen - R.I.P.
     Clash Of The Titans (1981)                          
     Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (1977) 
     The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (1973)
     The Valley Of Gwangi (1969)
     One Million Years B.C. (1966)
     First Men In The Moon (1964)
     Jason And The Argonauts (1963)
     Mysterious Island (1961)
     The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver (1960)
     The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958)
     20 Million Miles To Earth (1957)
     The Animal World (1956)
     It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)
     Mighty Joe Young (1949)


        The world is an immeasurably richer place thanks to the gifts that you shared.

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