October 12, 2018

John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) Rolls In To Launch Movies At Dog Farm Pre'Ween Picture Show 2018

John Carpenter's The Fog (1980)
John Carpenter's The Fog (1980)
     "It was terrible.  I had a movie that didn't work, and I knew it in my heart."
John Carpenter on The Fog (1980)

     So yeah. That's how I like to kick off a weekend of horror movies...with a title that the movie's own director had such a low opinion of upon viewing the rough cut that he felt obliged to do a major overhaul just to whip it into a releasable form.  I must defer to Mr. Carpenter's assessment.  He was surely better equipped than anyone to judge the relative merit of his own work.  Truly, then, Carpenter must be a master filmmaker, because the rejiggered version of The Fog (1980) he ultimately released to the world after extensive re-shoots and re-editing is one of the finest atmosphere laden spook shows out there.

     I believe many still think of The Fog as second tier Carpenter, and it's honestly not too hard to see why.  Even when originally released it was out of step with the prevailing tone of the nascent slasher boom - ironically, a boom Carpenter's own Halloween (1978) was largely responsible for precipitating.  The Fog was an old fashioned ghost story born of the oral tradition. The elder generations pass down the local folklore to the younger ones.  As the years pass, the origins of those tales become murky, and the particulars of those tales are sometimes distorted by the storyteller.

     Carpenter plainly lays out this theme in The Fog's opening scene (created during re-shoots) by having grizzled, stately old John Houseman telling a version of the story we're about to see to a group of wide-eyed children around a campfire on the beach.  It's a beautifully vetted scene that invites the viewer to be actively involved in the storytelling tradition by virtue of the simple intimacy with which it's related.  It could have been told in flashback, with the specifics writ large in a more traditionally cinematic fashion, but that wouldn't have been nearly as affecting as putting us right there with those kids, hanging on every word just as they are.

     The Fog may be one of Carpenter's most subdued movies, but the patient, atmospheric delivery does exactly what it intends.  Who doesn't want to hear a spooky old ghost story by the fire at Halloween?  This, I believe, is why The Fog is an ideal candidate to kick off this year's Pre'Ween Picture Show.

     It will be followed by What We Do In The Shadows (2014) and [REC] (2007) on the evening of October 26th.  Ginger Snaps (2000), Trick 'r Treat (2007), and [REC] 2 (2009) will round out the festivities on the 27th.  If you're anywhere in the vicinity of Timberville, Virginia and would like to join us, contact me care of Movies At Dog Farm.  There's always room around the fire for one more.

October 7, 2018

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman Volume III - The Bleeding Edge Of Cinematic Prognostication From 1983

     Me paraphrasing Beetlejuice in reference to David Cronenberg's Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome (1983) - Barry bubbles over
Barry bubbling over about the Spectacular Optical spring line. 
(10/6) Videodrome (1983)  One of the very first significant posts I ever wrote for this site was an overview of the ten best genre movies directed by Canadian auteur David Cronenberg.  I had the temerity then to proclaim Videodrome (1983) Cronenberg's masterpiece.  Though I suggested in my previous post this month that I'm sometimes wrong, I stand by my prior assessment of Videodrome one hundred percent.  It is, in my opinion, right up there with George Orwell's 1984 as one of the essential texts of the 20th century.  The particulars of the technology represented may now be anachronistic, but in an age when those in power exploit the base instincts of their constituency every single day to insure that they stay in power, the themes of Videodrome have never been more timely.  How did Cronenberg know?

     I'm treading dangerously close to going off on a political rant, and that would be highly inappropriate since Movies At Dog Farm is just a dopey little horror movie blog.  Instead, let me just say this:  if you watch Videodrome and don't see immediately how easily one can swap out Cronenberg's fantastic imaginings circa 1983 for the very real particulars of our daily lives circa 2018, you just might be one of those people being hoodwinked by your overlords.  Videodrome is real now.  Fight back and don't let the cancer take hold.  The television screen (or perhaps more accurately now, the cellphone or tablet screen ) has become the retina of the mind's eye.  Don't believe everything you read or see, because much of it is being manipulated for nefarious purposes by individuals with a vested interest in insuring that their version of the truth is the one you accept as fact.  I shall remain the eternal optimist and hope that most of us are smarter than that.  (Re-watch)

October 6, 2018

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman Volume III - Sometimes I'm Wrong

The Void (2016)
The Void (2016) - Better the second time...
(10/4) The Void (2016)  I checked out about thirty minutes in the first time I watched The Void (2016), but I'd been troubled by the nagging suspicion that I hadn't given if a fair shake ever since.  Its initial release was greeted with such a deluge of hyperbolic reviews in the genre press that I now believe my first viewing was doomed from the outset.

     When posts start regularly trotting out comparisons to John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) - to name just one cinematic high water mark to which it was frequently compared - it's almost inevitable that the movie in question will underwhelm.  By the end of the first act I was already sufficiently irritated by the poor lighting and unnecessarily bloated cast to  just chalk up the glowing reviews to the horror fans' collective unfed hunger for a new instant classic.  The Void had a fine pedigree, a commendable commitment to practical effects, and a wealth of instantly recognizable tips of the hat to horror greats past, but it seemed to me to pale in comparison to the classics it referenced well before it ever managed to find its own raison d'etre.  It was a sincere and commendable effort hamstrung by its own lofty ambitions.  But at least they were trying, right?

     It turns out that a bit of distance from the fanfare and a bit more effort on the part of the viewer revealed a significantly different experience.  While The Void still falls short of the transcendence to which it clearly aspires, my second viewing left me with a far greater appreciation for the admittedly long list of things it gets right.  I still think the cast was unnecessarily bloated, and such an abundance of thinly drawn characters littered the narrative with subplots that went nowhere.  I still think the clunky and abrupt introduction of the story's "Big Bad" was almost unforgivably ham-fisted.  And I still think the lighting throughout was downright shameful given the obvious attention to detail manifest in The Void's sometimes brilliant practical effects.  (I feel obliged to give an appreciative shout out here to the minion in the basement who had apparently spent years slamming his forehead into a blunt object in a desperate attempt to end his tortured existence.  That was pure nightmare fuel.)

     The Void's final third builds upon its nightmarish imagery with admirable aplomb, and I've never demanded total narrative coherence in the works of Argento and Fulci, so it's unfair to demand such of a newer flick that treads similar ground.  The Void's ad hoc appropriation of Fulci's haunting final image from The Beyond (1981) still works like gangbusters in its new context, and the overall effect of its deployment here more than justifies the blatant cribbing.

     I'm not too proud to admit when my initial assessment of a movie was compromised, and my second trip through The Void was a journey well worth taking.  Like many of the greats it shamelessly emulates, The Void is an undeniably flawed effort that still manages to evolve into something greater than the sum of its stitched together parts.  (Re-watch)

October 3, 2018

Diary Of A Movie Watchin' Madman Volume III - The Long Overdue Reboot

     So...seen any good horror lately?  This is the first time I've kept a viewing diary for Pre'Ween since 2014.  I find myself a bit more enthusiastic about my accelerated Pre'Ween viewing schedule than I've been for many a moon, and the capsulized review format of these entries seemed tailor made for dipping my toe in the bloody pool again after such a long absence.  Please be kind, as it's been a long time since I flexed my withered old writing muscle.

Channel Zero Candle Cove (2016)
(10/1) Channel Zero - Candle Cove (2016)  As is usually the case with newer offerings, I'm way behind the curve on catching up with Syfy's creepypasta inspired horror anthology series Channel Zero.  Season four is scheduled to debut at the end of this month, and I am only now having my first look at season one.  Thanks, Shudder.

     I'm only two episodes in, and I am thus far fairly enamored of what I've seen.  Based upon a creepypasta by cartoonist and author Kris Straub that first surfaced in 2009, the six episode first season seems well poised to expand upon the tale of a fictional children's television series (called Candle Cove, natch) that can only be viewed by a small group of people, usually children.

     Even on ad-free Shudder, I do find myself a little too cognizant of the rhythm of cable programming designed to accommodate commercial breaks (a problem I've always had with TV horror), but Candle Cove already seems to be getting a lot of things right.  The performances, at least the most important ones, are uniformly decent.  Paul Schneider as troubled child psychologist Mike Painter and Fiona Shaw as Mike's less overtly damaged mother Marla Painter have been standouts.  Nothing has quite had me pissing my diddies yet, but my interest is piqued.

     I kicked off this year's Pre'Ween festivities with my initial impression of Candle Cove because I intend to return to it for a more in depth analysis after I've finished viewing.  Just for point of reference, Candle Cove already has a leg up on Hulu's recent Stephen King penned opus Castle Rock.  I barely got through one episode of that, and I had absolutely no interest in going any further.  Did I miss out on anything by jumping ship too soon?

     I should also note that at least initially I believe one of the things Channel Zero has gotten right is limiting its self-contained single season arc to only six episodes.  I gave up on American Horror Story about four seasons ago, at least in part because every season seemed to run out of steam around episode seven or eight on its grim march to an obligatory dozen or so episodes. (First Watch)

Oculus (2013) creepiest scene
The creepiest scene in Oculus (2013) , spoiled by the trailer.
(10/2) Oculus (2013)  "You are entering an area adjacent to a location.  The kind of place where there might be a monster, or some kind of weird mirror.  These are just examples.  It could be something much better.  Prepare to enter... The Scary Door."   Futurama

     Thank you, Futurama, for once again stripping bare the very essence of my nerdified, horror loving existence.  A movie built around the premise of a haunted mirror should have been enough of a red flag to guarantee that I continued to steer clear of director Mike Flanagan's Oculus, but the promise of something much better suckered me in against my better judgement.  Only last week I watched Paco Plaza's Veronica (2017), a movie built around the premise of a haunted Ouija board, and I quite enjoyed it.  I harbor a strongly held belief that there is nothing new under the sun, and the best an inveterate horror fan can reasonably hope for now is a well executed, technically proficient rehash of something he or she has already seen before.  Competency is the new high water mark.

     I was cautiously optimistic about Oculus because I'd been pleasantly surprised by the competency of Flanagan's Hush (2016), itself a competently rendered rehash of Wait Until Dark (1967) with a deaf protagonist subbing for the blind protagonist of its predecessor.  No shame in that.  Flanagan fashioned an undeniably effective thriller from the borrowed nuts and bolts of an undeniably effective cinematic precursor.  Maybe lightning could strike twice?  Sadly, no.  At least, not this time.  Perhaps Flanagan's own rehash of the haunted Ouija board trope entitled Ouija: Origin Of Evil (2016) succeeds where Oculus failed.  I'll likely never know.  I think I've grown weary of watching the snake eat its own tail.

     Oculus is a heartbreaker because it does in fact show promise in the early going.  It seems all the talent involved was striving for something better than the muddled gumbo of horror cliches it ultimately becomes.  Unfortunately, Oculus falls prey to entirely too much rubber reality chaos in the third act by crosscutting between the horrors of the past and the trials of the present, and then it completely screws the pooch by ending with a "twist" that was telegraphed at the end of the first act to any viewer familiar with the concept of Chekov's Gun.  It's definitely not an embarrassing effort, but it's a frustrating one.

     Mike Flanagan is talented.  He can do better than just slapping a fresh coat of paint on rickety old narratives.  That being said, his next high profile venture is The Haunting Of Hill House, which premieres on Netflix on October 12th.  It already has a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Yeah, I'm gonna watch it.  What do I know?  (First Watch)

     Stay tuned.  There's probably more diary entries to come...

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