January 29, 2014

Barking At The Vacuum Cleaner - Mini-Review Of Xerox Ferox: The Wild World Of The Horror Film Fanzine And A Lord Of Tears (2012) Update

The cover of Xerox Ferox by John Szpunar
       My advanced age notwithstanding, I somehow managed to miss out on the glory days of the horror film fanzine.  Before the internet, horror and exploitation fans discussed their more esoteric viewing choices via a slew of these do-it-yourself publications that examined the marginalized movies most mainstream press chose to ignore.  It was a grassroots movement uniting fans worldwide in celebrating movies that made their homes primarily in the drive-ins and grindhouses.

     Author John Szpunar has assembled what must currently be the most definitive examination of the fanzine phenomena available with his new(ish) 800 page release Xerox Ferox: The Wild World Of The Horror Film Fanzine published by Headpress.  Szpunar interviewed over forty of the individuals responsible for many of the most well-known and revered of the horror film fanzines - familiar names like Chas. Balun, Bob Martin, Tim Lucas, Bill Landis, Michael Gingold, and Tim Ferrante.  The author acknowledges in the book's introduction only two glaring omissions that he was unable to interview: Psychotronic's Michael Weldon and the Gore Gazette's Rick Sullivan.  Maybe we'll see a Xerox Ferox Volume 2?

Nightmare USA by Stephen Thrower
     Fret not, though.  Even taking those two omissions into account one still finds more than enough fascinating information about this largely unexamined and yet historically significant era to keep busy for a long, long while.  I generally don't enjoy books comprised primarily of interviews, but Szpunar clearly knows his topic well.  He asks all the right questions of his subjects, and Xerox Ferox successfully weaves all of these interviews into a compelling history of a pivotal era in horror journalism.  Not since Stephen Thrower's Nightmare USA: The Untold Story Of The Exploitation Independents have I felt as though I've learned as much about a topic about which I was previously ignorant.  If I have one minor quibble, it's only that I wish the images of the fanzines sprinkled throughout were all clearly legible.  I suppose that just gives me an incentive to track down some fanzine compendiums, huh?

     I believe that the horror blogging community in particular will find Szpunar's Xerox Ferox to be especially interesting.  Horror blogging is an obvious outgrowth of these fanzines, and the personal accounts of what these trailblazers endured to get their commentary out into the world before the advent of easy internet distribution is inspiring.  John Szpunar's Xerox Ferox: The Wild World Of The Horror Film Fanzine earns my highest recommendation.


     The Dog Farm first brought director Lawrie Brewster's then forthcoming feature film Lord Of Tears to your attention way back in February of last year.  Since then, Lord Of Tears has seen release (you can order the Collector's Edition DVD or Blu-Ray here), and it continues to rack up some impressive accolades from all over the world.  It won both the Best Female Lead Award and the coveted Audience Award at the 2013 Bram Stoker International Film Festival, and it's earning a wealth of enthusiastic reviews from horror journalists all over the web.

The Collector's Edition disc release of Lord Of Tears available now at www.hexmedia.tv with Limited Edition Serial Numbers and loads of great extras!  Each package is signed by director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly!

     Now director Brewster tells me Lord Of Tears has been named an official selection of the prestigious Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in April!  Congratulations to Mr. Brewster and everyone else who worked so hard to make Lord Of Tears an unqualified success!

     Check out the new Lord Of Tears trailer, an interview with Lawrie Brewster discussing what's next for Hex Media, and a creepy video of the movie's Owlman terrorizing video chatters on Chat Roulette!


January 23, 2014

It! (1967) and The Shuttered Room (1967) - An Obscure Best Of The Big Lots Bargain Bin Double Feature

Warner Home Video Horror Double Feature It! The Shuttered Room Cover      A copy of the out of print Warner Home Video DVD pictured at left goes for anywhere from thirty to fifty dollars now.  I fished it out of the Big Lots bargain bin and paid only three dollars.  The monetary value of this disc in the secondary market doesn't necessarily correlate with the merit of the movies on it, but it does make this purchase one of the prouder moments of my career in disc speculation.  Fortunately, both It! (1967) and The Shuttered Room (1967) are decent movies, as well.  They're probably not fifty dollars worth of decent, but they make a passable double feature for a rainy afternoon - provided you can lay your hands on them.

                                   It! (1967)
                    -  Click Here For Trailer -

     It! is almost certainly the lesser of the two movies, and yet  it holds a peculiar fascination for me.  I'm a sucker for any even remotely watchable old movie about which I've somehow manage to remain previously unaware.  This faux Hammer flick about museum employee Arthur Pimm's pet golem - an imposing ambulatory statue Pimm commands to do his nefarious bidding - is a loopy B-movie hoot.  Pimm is played to hammy perfection by the late Roddy McDowall, who maintains viewer sympathy throughout even though he lives with the corpse of his dead mother and evokes the creature (identified specifically as the Golem of Prague) to murder on his behalf.  You've gotta love any movie that has the chutzpah to culminate with the British military attempting to address the golem's impervious nature by detonating a nuclear warhead in a heavily populated area of London.

     It! was written and directed by Herbert J. Leder, the same man who wrote and almost directed the delightfully peculiar monster brain flick Fiend Without A Face (1958) - currently available from Criterion.  It! enjoyed wide release on a double bill with Leder's equally obscure The Frozen Dead (1966) - currently available from the Warner Archive.  So where is It! currently available?  Well aside from this particular OOP disc, I was unable to find it anywhere.  I discovered evidence of an airing or two on Turner Classic Movies several years ago, but that's about it.  This is precisely the kind of movie that makes a case for not entirely abandoning the notion of collecting movies on hard media.  I couldn't even find It! available to stream.

     One final bit of trivia:  although shot in color, all prints for the U.S. theatrical release of this British production were in black and white.  As illustrated in the screen caps below, the disc release is in glorious Eastmancolor. 

It! (1967) main title featuring the golem
It! (1967) Stephen King had the confidence to omit the exclamation mark.
Roddy McDowall and his mother's corpse from It! (1967)
Arthur Pimm (Roddy McDowall) lives with the corpse of his mother.  Why?  Because Psycho (1960).
Roddy McDowall and the Golem of Prague from It! (1967)
Simon Says . . .  hold your arms out parallel to one another in front of you like the Golem of Prague.
racy shot of Jill Haworth from It! (1967)
Then there was this gratuitous slice of cheesecake, courtesy of Pimm's fevered imagination.
a hyperbolic newspaper headline from It! (1967)
. . . so they'll obviously have to go with the nuclear warhead in a populated area.
the golem walks into the ocean at the end of It! (1967)
When all else fails, make your golem take a time out at the bottom of the ocean.
                                                               The Shuttered Room (1966)
                                                                    - Click Here For Clip -

     The Shuttered Room, based upon a story idea left incomplete by the late H.P.Lovecraft, was actually written by Arkham House founder and "posthumous collaborator" August Derleth.   As such, it enjoys a slightly higher profile than It!, and this movie adaptation actually is one of the better attempts to translate the notoriously difficult tone of  Lovecraft's work into cinematic terms.  The story revolves around a newly married couple that inherits an abandoned watermill on the island of Dunwich, Massachussets from the wife's recently deceased parents.  The mill harbors an unspeakable horror in its shuttered attic, and the locals clearly know more than they're willing to share.  Though the tale is set in New England, The Shuttered Room was filmed in Norfolk, England.  It utilized a pre-existing mill location that was, in fact, an ancient landmark.  The mill burns to the ground at the end of the movie, and it actually was razed for filming despite the protests of the local populace.   

     The Shuttered Room isn't particularly original, but it's a solid slow building mystery highlighted by performances that are uniformly better than the material demands.  In particular, Oliver Reed has a jolly old time chewing up the scenery as a lecherous local thug named Ethan.  The Shuttered Room also makes effective use of  attractively shot locations and languid pacing to build the eerie atmosphere that is the most Lovecraftian element of the movie.

     Unfortunately The Shuttered Room, like It!, is also now a difficult movie to see.  So why am I posting about these movies?  Well, I'm trying to pay it forward.  The only reason I nabbed this disc when I found it was because I'd seen an article about The Shuttered Room a year or so prior in Rue Morgue Magazine.  Otherwise I would have had no awareness of either of these titles, and I would have most likely left the disc when I came across it.  So heads up:  if you happen upon a copy of this release at a reasonable price, buy it.

The Shuttered Room (1966) titles
The Shuttered Room (1967)  Imagine this title card accompanied by off-putting  jazz music.
ferry to dunwich sign from The Shuttered Room (1966)
And that means you're only a ferry ride away from lots of creepy, whispering locals.
Oliver Reed and Carol Lynley's ass from The Shuttered Room (1966)
Oliver Reed enjoys a game of grab ass (more than necessary, perhaps) with co-star Carol Lynley.
view through the peephole from The Shuttered Room (1966)
What unspeakable evil lurks behind the door of the shuttered room?  Hope it's flame retardant . . .
the final conflagration from The Shuttered Room (1966)
. . . because in the sixties, almost every horror movie ended with a conflagration. 

Warner Home Video Horror Double Feature Chamber Of Horrors and Brides Of Fu Manchu cover     Keep an eye out for the second Warner Home Video Horror Double Feature, as well.  It features Chamber Of Horrors (1966) and Brides Of Fu Manchu (1966), and it can still be had for a much more reasonable price.  Chamber Of Horrors features both a "Horror Horn" and "Fear Flasher" gimmick that kick in whenever something terrifying occurs, and Brides Of Fu Manchu is one of five movies produced by Harry Alan Towers featuring Christopher Lee as the evil criminal mastermind.

     On a related note, Warner Brothers also released an aborted attempt at a series of  Sci-Fi Double Features comprised of only three releases, and these seem to be even more scarce. 

January 9, 2014

Noteworthy On Netflix - 1/9/14

Noteworthy On Netflix bone banner

     Now that the holidays are over we all have time to get back to what's important - watching movies on Netflix streaming.  It turns out that several of my favorites from 2013 are now available, so I'll be babbling more than usual about a few.  These are by no means the only worthy genre movies on Netflix, just a handful of titles I'm familiar with that I believe are worthy of your attention. 

     Availability changes often, but all of the following titles were available from Netflix at the time of this posting.  The genre listed after the title (Documentary, Horror, Comedy, Action & Adventure,  or Sci-Fi & Fantasy) describes where you'll find each movie in your onscreen groupings.  Try doing a manual search if one seems to be missing.  Please note: sometimes my thumbnails won't be exactly the same thumbnail that Netflix is using.

     If you have recommendations of your own, please share in the Comments section below.  You can watch a trailer for each movie by clicking its title.

Maniac (2012)
Horror / 1hr28min / NR / HD

     I've never really cared for the original Maniac (1980).  The late Joe Spinell was a little too convincing as the titular scalp collecting psycho.  In what I suppose is a bit of a back-handed compliment, Maniac was too sleazy for me to enjoy watching.  I felt like I needed a shower afterwards.  To my mind, then, the 2012 remake was one of those rare instances when I believed a remake had a genuine opportunity to eclipse the original.  Sadly, I didn't care for it.  The new Maniac was too sleazy for me to enjoy watching.  I felt like I needed a shower afterwards.  It may not eclipse the original, but it at least equals it.  Bravo?

     Seriously, though, attention must be paid.  The Maniac redux may not be to my taste, but its first person point-of-view conceit is skillfully maintained and undeniably effective.  There were several instances wherein I just wanted to turn away from the ugliness unfolding before me.  It sounds like a good horror movie, doesn't it?  Well I suppose it is.  It certainly got under my skin more than any other movie this year.  Star Elijah Wood is believably unhinged throughout.  Wood had already demonstrated a simmering undercurrent of darkness in the often dour television comedy Wilfred, so I knew he had it in him.   

     Maniac succeeds in being the most unremittingly grim and unpleasant viewing experience of 2013 for me.  That's a compliment, by the way.  It doesn't surprise me at all that it's turning up on a lot of year end best of  lists.  Whether or not you want to submit yourself to such a grim and unpleasant viewing experience is a question you'll have to answer for yourself.


Aftershock (2012)
Horror / 1hr29min / R / HD

     Multi-hyphenate Eli Roth seems to be every genre fan's favorite whipping boy if they're all done bitching about Rob Zombie.  Roth is just a producer / actor here, but the tone of Aftershock is definitely of a piece with his own filmography as a director.  In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in Chile, circumstances are made exponentially worse by a nearby collapsed prison spewing lots of very rapey hardened criminals into the streets.  One wonders if the director of Hostel has ever had a good experience traveling abroad.

     Aftershock isn't a great movie, but if you've enjoyed anything else with Roth's fingerprints on it, you'll probably enjoy this.  I love that last shot.  The Green Inferno (2013), his forthcoming ode to Italian made gutmunchers like Cannibal Holocaust (1980), seems poised to continue Roth's tortured travelogue.


Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Drama / 1hr32min / NR / HD

     I don't know art, but I know what I like.  Even though it peters out before the end credits roll, Berberian Sound Studio was the most fiercely original genre movie I saw last year.  An homage to both Italian giallos and old school sound editing, director Peter Strickland's chronicle of a mild mannered sound engineer's descent into madness has haunted me.  Not surprisingly, the movie's sound design is incredible, so be sure to watch it with the proper tech.

     I unwittingly watched Berberian Sound Studio without subtitles (much of the dialog is in Italian), and I actually think that enhanced the experience for me, accentuating the loneliness and paranoia of being a stranger in a strange land and not really knowing for certain what's happening around you.  For the record, the version streaming on Netflix has subtitles, but I'm not sure I want to watch it that way.  I suspect my own inferences were probably more sinister and upsetting than what actually occurs.  With or without subtitles, Berberian Sound Studio is beautiful to look at, disturbing to listen to, and highly recommended.  I have no clue why Netflix has it listed as Drama rather than Horror.


Grabbers (2012)
Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy / 1hr34min / NR / HD

     Sometimes you just need a good, old fashioned, well crafted, meat and potatoes creature feature.  Refreshingly free of self-reflexive irony and boasting surprisingly good FX (both CGI and practical), Grabbers was easily the best of the lot in 2013.  Horror / comedy is a hard combo to nail, but you just can't go wrong with drunk Irishmen battling tentacled beasties.  Though not yet available on Netflix, Big Ass Spider (2013) has a similar vibe and is also worth checking out.


Room 237 (2012)
Documentary / 1hr43min / NR / HD

     More of a stream of consciousness game of "what if?" than a proper documentary, Room 237 explores various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece The Shining (1980).  Those expecting a traditional documentary structure will be sorely disappointed, but viewers more interested in the interpretations themselves than the talking heads spouting them will have a blast.  At the very least, Room 237 will spark an urgent need to give The Shining another watch to see if any of these theories here hold water.


American Mary (2012)
Horror / 1hr42min / R / HD

     Yet another movie that's making a lot of year end best of lists, American Mary chronicles medical student Mary Mason's descent into a subculture of individuals seeking a qualified physician to perform elective "modification" surgeries not covered by their HMOs.  It's a testament to how good Katharine Isabelle's lead performance is that you'll find yourself rooting for her even after Mary goes off the rails.  As good as Isabelle is, though, supporting player Tristan Risk steals every scene she's in as Beatress, a sweet natured stripper who's had herself surgically altered to resemble Betty Boop. 

     I'm always a sucker for body horror, and filmmaking duo Jen and Sylvia Soska have crafted a unique and well mounted entry that leaves me excited to see what they can make of their next assignment.  A second chapter in the See No Evil franchise-that-nobody-asked-for doesn't seem as ambitious a follow-up as I might have hoped for, but more power to them if they can make a silk purse of that sow's ear.


Dredd (2012)
Action & Adventure, Sci-Fi & Fantasy / 1hr35min / R / HD

     Remember when the good guy was the good guy from frame one, the bad guy was psychotically evil, and you knew the bad guy would ultimately have justice served to him by the good guy in the most sadistic, gratuitous, and gratifyingly ironic way possible?  Dredd even figured out a way to serve that justice in slow motion and make it a pertinent plot point rather than pointless grandstanding.  Dredd shoulda been way more successful at the box office, and it has "cult film" written all over it now.  Mark my words - a Cult Of Dredd will rise up in a decade or so and demand a sequel.


Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011)
Documentary / 1hr33min / NR / HD

     The late visual effects artist Ray Harryhausen pioneered his own form of stop motion animation called Dynamation that brought fantastic creatures to life in movies as varied as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), Jason And The Argonauts (1963), and Clash Of The Titans (1981).  He was truly a visionary, and this fine documentary is a fitting tribute to his work.  Harryhausen's influence on genre films is incalculable.

     Adrienne caught me crying while watching this, and I felt obliged to explain to her why I was so touched.  I struggled to find the words.  If you've ever seen and enjoyed any genre movie then you owe this man a debt of gratitude.  Respect. 


Sightseers (2012) posterSightseers (2012)
Comedy / 1hr28min / NR / HD

     My previous assessment of Sightseers:

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

     I stand by that.
Sightseers (2012) delivers pitch black humor, random acts of violence, and two versions of "Tainted Love". 'Nuf said. See it. - See more at: http://www.moviesatdogfarm.com/2013/05/movies-at-dog-farm-trailer-park-volume.html#sthash.iiHLgVAm.dpuf
Sightseers (2012) delivers pitch black humor, random acts of violence, and two versions of "Tainted Love". 'Nuf said. See it. - See more at: http://www.moviesatdogfarm.com/2013/05/movies-at-dog-farm-trailer-park-volume.html#sthash.iiHLgVAm.dpuf
Sightseers (2012) delivers pitch black humor, random acts of violence, and two versions of "Tainted Love". 'Nuf said. See it. - See more at: http://www.moviesatdogfarm.com/2013/05/movies-at-dog-farm-trailer-park-volume.html#sthash.iiHLgVAm.dpuf

Sightseers (2012) delivers pitch black humor, random acts of violence, and two versions of "Tainted Love". 'Nuf said. See it. - See more at: http://www.moviesatdogfarm.com/2013/05/movies-at-dog-farm-trailer-park-volume.html#sthash.iiHLgVAm.dpuf

January 1, 2014

What Do You Do When The Scary Dies?

Large Marge from Pee-wee's Big Adventure
Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - Now that's scary!
     It's a sad fact that most lifelong horror movie fans become inured to the machinations filmmakers employ to scare them.  We grow too jaded to be frightened.  Would we continue to watch comedies if we never laughed?  Probably not.  We soldier on, though, hoping against hope that the next horror movie we watch will be the one that brings the scary back from the dead.

     I believe many of us resort to living vicariously through the terrified responses of the straights in our lives to the movies that long ago ceased to scare us.  It's one of the primary reasons we have a compulsion to share our favorites.  There's no true altruism there, just a selfish need to enjoy a scare once removed rather than no scare at all.  If our victims become fans themselves, so much the better.  Still, what we're really hoping for is to see our friends and family completely lose their shit in a fashion that we no longer can.  I've been on the receiving end of this dynamic, too.  Good ole Large Marge giving Pee-wee Herman the scare of his life in Pee-wee's Big Adventure traumatized me, and I know my friend Jeff subjected me to that as payback for all of the times I'd exposed him to horror movies for my own twisted gratification.  Payback is truly a bug-eyed, truck driving bitch.

world's worst backne from The Bay (2012)
Creepy creepin' crud  - The Bay (2013)
     We try to bring the scary back by looking for it in previously unexplored avenues, as well.  Fortunately, the horror genre is stuffed to the brim with sub-genres.  I'm forty-three years old, and I'm still never at a loss to find a heretofore unexamined offshoot.  I've found many noteworthy little gems just by deigning to explore sub-genres against which I've fostered prejudice.  I don't like vampire movies, but Let The Right One In (2008) is one of the finest movies - horror or otherwise - that I've seen in the last decade.  I'm suffering from pronounced zombie fatigue, but Pontypool (2008) spins those hoary old zombie movie tropes into one of the most mesmerizing films of its type I've ever seen.  The found footage sub-genre is pretty threadbare, but it can still occasionally offer up effective chillers like Europa Report (2013) and The Bay (2012).  The scary may be on life support, but there are signs of life if you look hard enough.

not entirely alone in the dark from [REC] (2007)
Alone in the dark . . . or not -  [REC] (2007)
     The cruel irony, of course, is that the wider the swath we cut across the horror landscape, the more difficult it becomes to keep turning up more scares.  It becomes increasingly difficult to find something we haven't already seen before.  A buddy at work suggests a pefectly solid little time waster he saw on cable the night before, and we're obliged to assure him that the flick he enjoyed so much is in fact just a rip-off of movie X, Y, or Z.  Even worse, we might be obliged to tell him that his "find" is actually a rip-off of a vastly superior foreign made original.  Aren't they always?  You might have the satisfaction of pointing your buddy toward [REC] (2007) after he ran across Quarantine (2008) on Netflix streaming, but you've only taken another step toward becoming the resident "horror guy".  Your appreciation of horror movies has become largely academic.  You can no longer watch any new movie without automatically assessing its relative merit as compared to two or three similar movies that came before.  You've become a purely critical viewer.  You'll never be scared again if you can't allow yourself to be entirely in the moment when watching a new flick, but once you've become aware of the nuts and bolts used to construct a cinematic scare, you'll always see it coming.  What's a fan to do?

Scooby and Shaggy
Shaggy and Scooby were always scared, right?  Must work.
     Some of us resort to having a few drinks to enhance viewing.  Unfortunately, beer, wine, and liquor all have roughly the same affect.  Though tying one on can boost the appeal of a campy stink bomb, it also dulls the senses and destroys focus.  It's hard to be scared by a movie if you're too blotto to know you're supposed to be.  I've also heard tell of fans smoking pot to achieve an opposite effect by sharpening focus to keep themselves completely in the moment.  I have it on good authority that this disables critical faculties while heightening attention to detail.  Though Movies At Dog Farm would of course never advocate any kind of illegal activity, it seems to me that just might work - as long the viewer doesn't fall asleep first or break the spell by pausing the movie to forage for some nachos.

     So what do you do when the scary dies?  Don't panic.  Just wait for it.  You see, I'm pretty sure the scary never actually dies, it only plays opossum.  It's still alive, taking shallow breaths and lying motionless, luring us into a false sense of security.  Then, when we least expect it . . .

     Boo!  Scary happens.  Crisis averted. 

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