June 19, 2013

Don't Hate Horror Movie Fans Because We're A Bit Twisted, But Don't Forget That, Either . . .

Famous Monsters Of Filmland first issue
Cover of the first Famous Monsters Of Filmland
     Way back when I was a youngster, in the dark days before the Internet, I could never have imagined what horror movie fandom would one day become.  It used to seem a solitary endeavor, a perception reinforced by the sense that the horror movie fan was a rung further down the ladder than even the often mocked and marginalized science fiction fan.  The fact that the horror movie hosts were usually relegated to the tail end of the broadcast day seemed to support this notion, as did the almost complete absence of any kind of serious critical examination of the kind of fare these programs aired.  Sure, there were enough twisted insomniacs to warrant your local station's choice to offer up cheaply obtained horror fare in the wee hours of the morning, but any sense of a horror community was mostly relegated to the circles of kids on the playgrounds excitedly discussing the details of whatever hoary old chestnut had been offered up by the local rendition of Shock Theater over the weekend.  Grown-ups just didn't bother.  Horror movies, just like bubble gum cards and comic books, were for children.

     I realize now, of course, that there existed a huge horror community back then.  We just weren't sufficiently connected or organized to be entirely aware of it.  We had Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters Of Filmland as a sort of national clubhouse for the horror fan, we had the aforementioned late night television horror shows, and we had a seemingly never ending stream of horror content to catch where we could, but we didn't really have a meeting place that legitimized our private obsession.  One need only look to the legion of Monster Kids like Stephen King, Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg, or Tom Savini that went on to careers popularizing the form in the mainstream to realize that the horror fans were everywhere, we just didn't know it then.  We were legion, even though it seemed a bit like our obsession was meant to be indulged behind closed doors - a burgeoning fascination analogous to the joys of masturbation.  We all did it, we just didn't talk about it much lest the straights of the world look down their collective nose at us.  Funny, then, how the Internet age has facilitated both obsessions.

Doin' some yardwork - Trick 'r Treat (2007)
     Even now, within my own circle of friends and acquaintances, I feel like a bit of an odd duck.  In any given social circumstance I'm almost always the resident horror authority.  I take pride in that designation, and I do my best to encourage any spark of interest that my "normal" friends display in the topic.  Still, it's a designation that usually finds me on the periphery and left with the sense that my friends are only mollifying me, offering up the occasional bit of feigned interest like a figurative pat on the head to assure me that my strange obsession is o.k.  Maybe they're all just trying to forestall that moment in the future when I finally decide to add them to the ever growing pile of corpses that they're certain I must have stacked up in my crawlspace.  I bury the bodies, of course, since the smell would be horrendous, but it still feels a bit like condescension.

Freaks (1932) - . . . in case you didn't get the reference.
     On the Internet, though, it's easy to see that I'm not alone.  I'm astounded anew on an almost daily basis by not only how many of us there are, but by how eager we all seem to proudly proclaim our love of horror to the world at large.  In this company, I am but one voice in a multitude.  In fact, I often feel less "hardcore" than many of the people I meet here, as though I'm not obsessed enough.  Even more encouraging than sheer numbers is the fact that almost everyone I've come in contact with in this forum is unfailingly supportive, knowledgeable, tolerant, and friendly.  Sure, there's the occasional troll, but not as many as you might expect.  This is a community of which I can be proud to be a part.  Horror fans are good people.  I can say, "One of us!  One of us!", and you'll all know exactly what I'm referencing.  If I did that at work, I'd be sent for a drug screen.

     So the next time one of your non horror loving acquaintances refers to your love of horror with smug condescension, remember just how large the community you belong to actually is.  Also, remember you can only bury so many of the haters in your back yard before that starts to smell, too.

June 14, 2013

3D Or Not 3D? Get Out Your Glasses, Movies At Dog Farm Is Comin' At Ya

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) 3D anaglyph
3D anaglyph still - Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
     I've waited my entire life to see Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) in 3D.  It finally happened today.  It was 
. . . meh.

     Adrienne has had a 3D capable LED for years now, and I finally cajoled her into getting an emitter and glasses for it.  I've got a stack of a dozen and a half 3D movies just waiting for me to find time to watch them all.  I tackled Creature first because I've wanted to see it in it's original form for so long.  Well, now I've seen it, and I'm disappointed.

     Don't misunderstand me, it looked absolutely gorgeous.  It was the remastered 3D Blu Ray included in the Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection, and I can't imagine that a movie of this vintage could possibly have looked better.  It was the 3D that disappointed.

     The 3D was well rendered with no ghosting and very little crosstalk.  It added an incredible amount of depth to the picture.  It avoided the "cut out" look one often sees in lesser 3D efforts like many of the post production conversions.  The problem, then?  Nothing ever came at me.  Not once.  The creature's hands, the spear gun, the bow of the boat - clearly, they were all intended to jut out from the screen to give me a cheap thrill.  They didn't.  I'd waited all my life for the creature to be coming at me, and he never left the confines of his 3D television aquarium.

Creature From The Black Lagoon 3D
The way it was supposed to be . . .
     You see, apparently it's tacky to want your 3D in your lap.  If it's in your lap, it is a gimmick, and James Cameron and his acolytes want to convince you it's not a gimmick.  Well dammit, I want the gimmick.  The 3D in Creature was supposed to pop out of the screen.  It didn't, and I feel cheated.  I guess I'm the poster boy for the unwashed masses who believe 3D isn't 3D unless the guy sitting in front of you gets slapped in the back of the head a few times.

     Shouldn't the 3D be presented in the fashion that best approximates the filmmaker's intent, though?  The 1950s era 3D was all gimmick.  It was big-screen cinematic sleight of hand intended to put asses back in the seats when too many of those asses ended up on their couches in front of the television.  Where's the showmanship?  All the restoration crew had to do was set the parallax accordingly, and I could have had a lap full of creature - or even better, a lap full of Julie Adams.  Instead, I get a perfectly executed sense of depth with no pizazz.  Oh, the humanity.

Betsy Rue in My Bloody Valentine (2009)
This worked even better comin' at ya . . . My Bloody Valentine (2009)
     Whatever else one might say of the 2009 My Bloody Valentine remake, the 3D gags delivered the goods.  I was fortunate enough to see it in a packed theater on opening night, and the audience loved it.  We had a pickaxe thrown at us within the first fifteen minutes.  I had an eyeball pop out at me just like the gag everyone remembers from Friday The 13th Part III (1982) in 3D.  I had the top half of a victim's head slide down a shovel seemingly within inches of my face. And of course, let's not forget actress Betsy Rue fleeing from the killer buck naked in three dimensions.  Director Patrick Lussier knew how to work that 3D gimmick for everything it was worth, and it was glorious.

Prometheus (2012)
A stunning sensation of depth in 3D - Prometheus (2012)
    I realize there's a place for the more subtle three dimensional depth, but most of the movies I've seen that take a more subdued approach leave me wondering what, if anything, the 3D really added.  Occasionally I'll see an example that makes me think otherwise, and I'm going to pointedly avoid offering up Avatar (2009) since that seems to be everyone's go-to high water mark.  The most effective more subtle use of 3D I've seen would have to be Prometheus (2012).  Even that movie's most vocal critics have generally acknowledged that it was beautiful to look at, and the 3D did an exemplary job of drawing the viewer into the meticulously rendered alien environments without calling undue attention to itself.  Fine.  But how many one hundred and thirty million dollar sci-fi movies do you see?

Final Destination 5 (2011)
Final Destination 5 (2011)
     I suppose what it boils down to is that I have different expectations depending on the nature of the project.  I fully expect The Final Destination (2009), Final Destination 5 (2011), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) to be throwing the gimmicky projectiles off the screen at me hot and heavy.  I'm willing to temper my expectations and expect something more subtle when I watch The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Oz The Great And Powerful (2013), Hugo (2011), and Coraline (2009).

     I'm not sure what to expect when I watch the 3D conversion of  Jurassic Park (1993), but I'm pretty excited about it.  I hope objects in mirror are closer than the appear, or that they at least appear closer than they appear. 

Jurassic Park (1993) anaglyph 3D
3D anaglyph still (blue/red glasses) Jurassic Park (1993)

June 7, 2013

I Was Raised On The Slashers, Bitch

Friday the 13th (1980) axe to the face
A splitting headache, slasher movie style.
     I was just coming of age when the slasher movie boom that began with Halloween (1978) and ended with A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) was storming the pop culture landscape.  Though I've developed a wide-ranging taste in horror movies over the years, slashers were the first horror movies to make my heart go pitter-pat.  You never forget your first love.

     At the time, slasher movies defined horror for me.  This was, of course,  a pretty narrow definition, but it's a great sub-genre for a budding horror fan to cut his teeth.  The simple charms of a slasher movie exist on the surface.  Slashers are so beholden to a fixed narrative template that it's easy for nascent film critics to perceive variations to the form.   The slashers display a conservative morality that fosters jump scares while avoiding any ambiguity that might render the story more profoundly disturbing.  If you do bad things in a slasher, you die - easy peasy.  Even the movies' characters tend to be recurring archetypes - jock, joker, slut, virgin - that are instantly recognized and understood. 

Jason Voorhees at the door
Kramer's got nothing on Jason Voorhees
     Once a viewer becomes attuned to the slasher movie paradigm the movies themselves become the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.  You know almost exactly what's being served and how it will be served to you.  The thrill becomes less about originality and more about seeing how the particulars will change in the interest of tarting up the hoary foundation.  In many ways, a slasher movie holds the same appeal one finds in a t.v. sitcom.  A visit from Jason Vorhees is akin to a visit from the wacky next door neighbor who does a variation of the same shtick every week.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) chimney
There damn well better be cookies and milk . . .
     Luckily there were enough irate mothers and incensed community leaders railing against the slasher movies of the era to guarantee the maligned sub-genre's continued low and dangerous rep.  How so many morally upright pillars of the community failed to see what one presumes should have been  the attractive notion of a black and white morality displayed in the slasher movies they vilified still perplexes me.  The notorious Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) would have slipped beneath my radar altogether had a batch of overwrought PTA mothers not made enough noise about it to land themselves on Entertainment Tonight.  Since they did, I made sure to get to a theater before they succeeded in having the movie abruptly pulled from distribution.

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) gun in mouth
A "shot" from Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)

     Even otherwise perceptive movie critics didn't really get it.  Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert famously decried the entire slasher sub-genre on their show At The Movies (watch the entire episode in two parts, here and here).  Sure, they gave props to Halloween and made some cogent points about the exploitative nature of many of the slashers that followed in its wake, but . . . Take a look at Russ Meyer's wildly exploitative  Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) - based upon a screenplay written by Roger Ebert - and tell me how Mr. Ebert's sensibilities become so delicate in the span of just a decade.

New Year's Evil (1980) suffocated by a bag of pot
Bag of pot or murder weapon?
      As a youngster, though, the perception that slasher movies were deviated and dangerous - and therefore not fit for consumption by any decent person - only enhanced their appeal.  I still recall many a childhood night that I'd set an alarm to wake me in the wee hours of the morning so I could surreptitiously watch some promising slice-and-dicer airing on HBO or Showtime.  Almost everything about a slasher movie seemed designed to appeal to an adolescent boy.  Slashers were my gateway drug.

He Know You're Alone (1980) poster
He Knows You're Alone (1980)
     This rumination was prompted by the realization that there are still slasher movies from this era that I haven't seen.  I was indoctrinated by the likes of Friday The 13th (1980) and My Bloody Valentine (1981), but I'd never seen He Knows You're Alone (1980), Happy Birthday To Me (1981), and The House On Sorority Row (1983) until recently.  Just this week I've watched both Curtains (1983) and New Year's Evil (1980) for the first time.  I've decided to embark upon a more in depth investigation of these movies and the era they sprang from, so more posts about the topic will likely be forthcoming.  We can talk about the FX superstars, the iconography, the gratuitous nudity, and perhaps even the curious mini-trend of custom made ballads celebrating the legends of the slashers themselves. 

     It's on.  Let's get wet . . .

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