July 27, 2013

Barking At The Vacuum Cleaner - Evil Dead (2013), Age Appropriate Horror, and Orphan Black

Evil Dead (2013) poster
Evil Dead (2013)
     I desperately wanted to dislike director Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead (2013) just so I could title a post "Evil Dead Is An Evil Dud".  Alas, my first viewing of it a few days ago won't allow for that.  Since producers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have both expressed interest in having Campbell's Ash from the original trilogy be involved in future iterations of Alvarez's vision, I'm not really sure if the new Evil Dead should be considered a traditional remake.  For the purposes of this discussion, though, I'm going to say it is a remake, and it's one of a very small handful of remakes that isn't an abject failure.

     I actually appreciated the less overtly comedic tone, the practical make-up FX, and the different - but not too different - take on the original movie's narrative.  If I had one minor quibble, it's only that I would've like to have seen a few more truly suspenseful and horrific moments scattered throughout the movie's run time.  Alvarez delivered the gorey goods, but actual scares were few and far between.  Still, Evil Dead was a pleasant surprise.  Recommended.

     On a related note, fans should check out Raimi's remake of his own Army Of Darkness (1992).  It's called Oz The Great And Powerful (2013).  Seriously, Sam, the cribbing from your own work was pretty blatant.  It's one of the better implementations of 3D that I've seen, though, so you get a pass.  If you really want to remake or sequelize Army Of Darkness, just do it.


     I've posted recently about both my earliest exposure to genre movies as well as my uncertainty about what is and is not appropriate viewing for youngsters, and the topic came up again recently when I was asked to recommend some good scary movies for a couple of nascent horror fans, ages 10 and 14.  The only stipulations were that the recommendations not be exceedingly gorey and that they steer clear of any overt sexual content. Thinking children of this age probably wouldn't take well to the slower pace of older horror movies, I recommended Attack The Block (2011).  I've not recommended anything else thus far because I don't trust my own "appropriate for children" filter, and even here, it occurred to me after the fact that although there's no sex and not that much gore, there is a good bit of recreational drug use.  Hear me out, though.

Attack The Block (2011)
The at risk youths of Attack The Block (2011)
     One of the things I most enjoyed about Attack The Block was the fact that the teenage hoodlums at the center of the movie's action - particularly gang leader Moses - actually had honest to God character arcs.  These kids start the movie mugging someone, and by the end of the movie they're acting in commendably heroic fashion.  They look out for one another, they become more altruistic in their actions, and I actually cared about them before the shit stopped hitting the fan.  That kind of depth in characterization is a rare commodity these days.  In addition to being a highly entertaining monster movie, Attack The Block shows some seriously at risk youths rising above their circumstance.  I'll even cop to misting up a bit at the movie's conclusion, which I'll refrain from spoiling here.  So how about it?  Is this a good movie to recommend to a youngster developing an interest in genre movies, or did I screw the cinematic pooch?  Does anyone else have some likely candidates - new or old - that they'd make a case for?

     One final note concerning Attack The Block:  see it if you haven't already.  I've been surprised by how many radars it's flown under.  In addition to well delineated characters, it boasts one of my favorite creature designs of the last decade or so.  I purposely refrained from showing a pic, but suffice to say, it's a highly effective design that's absolutely brilliant in its simplicity.


Tatiana Maslany as the lead(s) in the BBC series Orphan Black
     Finally, I've been completely sucked in by the first season of the BBC series Orphan Black.  It's a Canadian science fiction television series that aired on BBC America starring Tatiana Maslany - who played Ghost in Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) - who discovers she's one of several clones, all of whom seem to be marked for death.  Maslany plays all of the clones herself, and she does a fine job of convincingly pulling off all of the different characters.  She's often playing scenes with two or three versions of herself at a time, and she does so well enough that you won't feel as though you're watching The Patty Duke Show.  Pour yourself an Ovaltine if you got that reference. . .

July 15, 2013

"What? You've Never Seen . . . ?!?" Movies At Dog Farm Shares The Shame Of A Bloated Watch List

Island Of Lost Souls (1932) poster
Nifty old poster for Island Of Lost Souls (1932)
     So tonight, after a lifetime of reading about it and mooning over still shots, I finally had the opportunity to watch Island Of Lost Souls (1932) for the first time.  It was great, of course, but that's not really what this post is about.  You see, I should have watched this nearly two years ago when Criterion first released it.  I've had it on hand for nearly a year.  It's only seventy minutes long, for Pete's sake.  Why did it take me until now?  Well . . .

     Too many movies, too little time.  No matter how many movies on my Watch List I finally get around to watching, there's always dozens more waiting in the wings.  I used to foolishly believe that I'd already seen pretty much everything worth seeing, but a slew of late-in-life first time viewings have proven otherwise.  Following is a greatly abridged list of movies I enjoyed thoroughly when I finally made the time to watch them:  Demon Seed (1977), Fiend Without A Face (1958), The Flesh Eaters (1964), Horror Express (1972), Lemora: A Child's Tale Of The Supernatural (1973), Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971), Private Parts (1973), and The Quatermass Xperiment (1955).  I could name dozens more, but you get the idea.

     Really, then, this post is for me.  It's a public admission of laziness.  It will linger in the Dog Farm's list of recent posts, shaming me each time I see it, until I finally make the time to watch the thirteen titles that follow.  If any of you feel inclined to browbeat me into watching any of one of these titles sooner rather than later, please post a comment below.  I'm sure at least a few of them will blow monkey nuts, but I'll never know until I see them.  There's bound to be a gem or two in there, too.  Help me to help myself, and badger me relentlessly until I get this done.

Abby (1974) poster
Abby (1974)
      Director William Girdler was a B-movie titan.  He's the man that gave the world Asylum Of Satan (1972), Three On A Meathook (1973), and Grizzly (1976).  He also directed The Manitou (1978), a personal fave, just before dying at thirty years of age in a helicopter accident in the Phillipines.  Abby was Girdler's blaxploitation riff on The Exorcist, and I just can't imagine how that could be anything other than pure, cheesy heaven.   

Alucarda (1974) poster
 Alucarda (1974)
      Demonic possession, Satan worship, and vampirism - Oh my!  Director Juan Lopez Moctezuma was also responsible for Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon (1973) aka The Mansion Of Madness, a film I stumbled across on one of those fifty movie public domain sets.  I haven't been quite the same since.  That combined with the fact that stills from Alucarda always make me a little giddy means I have no valid excuse for having kept this one on the back burner for so long. 

Amer (2008) posterAmer (2008)
     I was jonesin' pretty hard to see Amer from the moment it first crossed my radar, and yet somehow it got lost in the shuffle anyway.  Being produced in the style of a 1970s giallo should have guaranteed a timely viewing of this one, and yet here I am five years later still making excuses.  I love a good giallo - hell, I love a bad giallo - so the time has come for me to buck up and commit the ninety minutes necessary to at last be able to mark Amer off of my List Of Shame.

Aswang (1994) posterAswang (1994)
     A film about a mythical creature from Filipino folklore that eats fetuses?  . . . and it was produced in Wisconsin?  Well, of course it was.  That makes perfect sense.  Both Joe Bob Briggs and Phantom Of The Movies' Videoscope sing Aswang's praises, so why haven't I watched it yet?  I suspect this will be one of those cases wherein the actual movie can't possibly live up to the promise of its central conceit, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.  Did I mention it was produced in Wisconsin?  Scary.  

Calvaire (2004) posterCalvaire (2004)
     I wasn't a big fan of director Fabrice Du Welz' Vinyan (2008), but my first and thus far only viewing of that was shortly after a surgery.  I was doped up on painkillers, so perhaps I wasn't catching all of the subtler nuances.  I'm pretty sure I started to watch Calvaire once before, but maybe I wasn't up to reading the subtitles that day.  I should just learn to speak French.  Or maybe I should just wait for the English language remake.  That's right - my excuse here is adult illiteracy.  If I wanted to read a book . . .

The Devils (1971) posterThe Devils (1971)
     I've yet to determine just exactly which cut and/or assembly of The Devils I have.  It's an hour and forty-eight minutes, if that means anything to anyone.  I suppose I'll just have to keep an eye out for the infamous "Rape of Christ" scene to figure it out.  Given the movie's spotty availability and the censorship to which it's been subjected, I'll be happy to have seen it at all.  It's hard for me to believe that director Ken Russell whipped up such an inflammatory depiction of sex, violence, and religion over forty years ago that Warner Brothers still fears releasing it.

Eyes Without A Face (1960) posterEyes Without A Face (1960)
     Not many genre movies get any love from Criterion, and how many movies of any stripe can claim to have been an influence on both Jess Franco and Billy Idol?  Eyes Without A Face was released in the U.S. as The Horror Chamber Of Doctor Faustus and was paired with The Manster (1959) for its U.S. engagements.  Have you ever seen The Manster?  Someone was smoking reefer with the hipsters when they created that double bill. 


The Innocents (1961) posterThe Innocents (1961)
     A moody, black and white psychological horror movie shot by ace cinematographer Freddie Francis and praised by the likes of Martin Scorsese should have made the cut years ago.  Marty didn't steer me wrong with the Val Lewton flicks, so I'm not sure what my hesitation was here.  Director Jack Clayton's Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) is another movie I could cop to having never watched properly, but this list is long enough already.  I'm usually not crazy about ghost stories, so maybe that was the rub.

Quatermass II (1957) posterQuatermass II (1957) aka Enemy From Space and
Quatermass And The Pit (1967) aka Five Million Years To Earth
     These two are - to my mind, at least - the most egregious and inexplicable examples of "movies I should have already seen" on this list.  I'd never seen The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) until recently, and I could have put a foot up my own ass for letting that one elude me for so long.  Xperiment's recipe of science fiction and horrific imagery was freakin' awesome.  I sought out Hammer's other two Quatermass movies immediately, and then . . . I didn't watch them.


Race With The Devil (1975) posterRace With The Devil (1975)
     Peter Fonda and Warren Oates do their damndest to outrun pursuing Satanists behind the wheel of a bitchin' seventies style RV.  Sounds like drive-in fried gold, doesn't it?  I let you know as soon as I finally quit procrastinating and watch it.

Targets (1968) posterTargets (1968)
     Peter Bogdanovich directs Boris Karloff in his final significant role before his descent into Mexican made cheapies.  Karloff plays a fictionalized version of himself, an aging horror movie icon making a final public appearance at a drive-in theater in California before his retirement.  A Vietnam vet on a murder spree turns up at the drive-in, and a face-off between an old school movie monster and the newer breed of serial killing "human" monster ensues.  It's no secret that Karloff could act his ass off when called upon to do so, and Targets seems like a likely opportunity.  I've shied away from this one for years, so it definitely earns its spot.

Taxidermia (2006) posterTaxidermia (2006)
     Rue Morgue Magazine declared Taxidermia "The Best Film You Didn't See In 2009".  Cut to 2013, and Movies At Dog Farm can now declare Taxidermia "The Best Film I Didn't See In 2009 That I Still Haven't Seen In 2013".  The trailer looks intriguing, and I'm pretty sure I want a poster of the image to the left (WTF?), so I suppose the time has come for me check out this recommended oddity.  I'm often guilty of giving the newer movies short shrift, and Taxidermia is a perfect case in point.

     So what genre movies are you ashamed to admit you haven't seen?  Confess your sins of omission by posting a comment below, and I promise you (almost) no one will see it . . .

July 2, 2013

(Mostly) Effective Tips For Teaching A Straight To Like Horror Movies

     My last post addressed the way in which straights (non horror fans) can have a tendency to look down their noses at horror fans, like we're Trekkies or something.  They only do this because they're ignorant.  It's our duty as fans to try to remedy this ignorance.  Following are a few tips from my own experience that I hope will help my fellow genre fans to convert the unwashed masses.

1)  The Classics Are Your Cornerstone

     The classics are considered classics for a reason.  It's no accident that every Halloween brings a wave of those "Ten Best Horror Movies To Watch On Halloween" lists from a slew of straight websites.  Sure, you'll see some variation, but these lists are mostly populated from a pool of the same titles on every single site.  We horror fans generally roll our eyes and think something like "The Exorcist?  Again?"  Still, though, you'd be surprised how many straights have never seen The Exorcist.

     The classics are a great place to let your student dip a foot into the bloody pool of horror, because your student will want to see these titles for many of the same reasons that filmmakers want to remake them.  Even if your subject has never seen these movies, he's at least aware of them.  He already has at least a vague idea of what they're about, often because he's already seen some of those aforementioned remakes.  Yes, even straights who profess not to like horror movies will occasionally go to see one - just goofin' - and chances are, what they saw was probably a remake with a familiar title.  Take the "in" and show them the original.

2)  Know Your Student

     Don't show a pregnant woman It's Alive (1974).  The amusement to be had from watching her squirm uncomfortably will be fleeting.  You've made watching a horror movie a distinctly unpleasant experience for her, and that only serves to reinforce her claim that she doesn't like horror.  She won't trust your recommendations in the future because she won't trust your motives.

Lena Leandersson in Let The Right One In (2008)
Lena Leandersson - Let The Right One In (2008)
     Take time to find out what kind of movies your student does like, and choose a title that somehow ties into that.  If she likes arty foreign films, show her Let The Right One In (2008).  If she likes comedies, show her Shaun Of The Dead (2004).  If she likes being intellectually engaged by a movie, show her Pontypool (2008).  Remember that your student already has preconceived notions about the horror genre.  You're trying to make an end run around those preconceptions in the hopes of demonstrating that the horror genre is multifaceted enough to encompass movies that even she will enjoy.

3)  Make It A Learning Experience

     Some people respond well to the idea of developing an intellectual appreciation for something even when they believe that something doesn't actually appeal to them.  Sometimes that intellectual appreciation can develop into a genuine enthusiasm once they've become attuned to the particulars of the subject.  Use that to your advantage when introducing someone to the horror genre.

     I programmed two different series of genre movies for some of my students that I referred to as The Drive-In Movie Summer Series.  We watched one movie each Wednesday for twelve weeks.  Prior to starting this undertaking I even went so far as to create a program schedule with bullet-pointed facts, trivia, and production info.  Putting the movies into some kind of context for my students before watching them piqued their interest, and it served to make the whole experience something more than just "horror guy subjecting straights to B-movies".  They were only humoring me at first, but they were fully and genuinely invested in the experience by the end of the summer.

John Travolta in The Devil's Rain (1975)
John Travolta - The Devil's Rain (1975)
     Be careful, though.  Don't get too bogged down in horror-centric details and lose sight of your goal.  For example, one of the movies we watched was The Devil's Rain (1975), and I made sure my resident John Travolta fan knew he was in it.  That's a bullet-point that mattered to her.  On the other hand, telling her it was directed by the same guy who directed The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) would have meant nothing to her.  This leads nicely into number four . . .

4)  Build On Your Successes

     If you show your student a Fulci movie and he objects to the graphic violence, shelve the Fulci movies until later.  If you show your student an Argento movie and he objects to the lack of narrative cohesion, fall back to horror movies with more linear narratives.  Don't force the issue.  There may be an opportunity to reintroduce Fulci or Argento later, but only if your student is still watching horror movies later.  Some directors, subgenres, and styles are acquired tastes.  I was only lukewarm on Argento's Suspiria (1977) the first time I saw it, and that's almost unfathomable to me now.  My tastes had to broaden and mature.  Your student will never get to that point if you insist upon beating him relentlessly about the face and neck with movies you think he should like.

     Use softer "gateway" horror like Gremlins (1984), Poltergeist (1982), or Arachnophobia (1990) first to get a feel for what your student might find tolerable, then branch out from there into thematically similar "hard" horror.  Take the time to build a foundation for your student's education.  We all had to walk before we ran.

5)  Recognize Your Student's Opinions Are Valid (Even If They're Wrong)

     You will inevitably show your student a horror movie you love that he doesn't care for.  Don't get discouraged.  Don't take it personally.  This is an opportunity, not a setback.

Angrus Scrimm as the Tall Man
Angus Scrimm - Phantasm (1979)
     Ask your student to identify what they found unappealing about the movie.  Gently prod them into examining critically exactly why they didn't like it.  Resist the urge to tell them they're wrong and then proceed to explain to them why they're wrong for half an hour.  Instead, turn their criticisms back on them, and make this an opportunity for them to examine what in particular didn't appeal to them.  This will, in turn, prompt them to consider what they do like.  You've now made your student an active participant in his education, strengthened his own critical faculties, encouraged him to view a horror movie as a topic worthy of examination, and let him know it's o.k. if he doesn't like everything he sees.  You can deal with the fact that he's a nutcase for not enjoying Phantasm (1979) at a later date.

6)  Be Prepared For The Day The Student Becomes The Master

     If you've done your job well, this will happen.  You'll have another horror literate friend with whom to watch your favorites.  All of those years you spent amassing a wealth of useless knowledge about the horror genre will not have been wasted.  When you help your student develop her affinity for zombie movies and she later comes to you interested in watching The Battery (2012), you'll know you've succeeded.

     So what tactics have worked for you?  Post a comment below to share your own tips.  One final note:  I was just joshing with that Trekkie slur at the start of this post.  I like Star Trek.  Really.

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