MARCH MADNESS: Things I’m Madly in Love with

Madness has a negative connotation. To cap off the month, why not talk about something happy. There are many reasons why I love horror movies and many horror movies I love. Here are some particular details (scenes, characters, trends, etc) that I’m madly in love with. But remember, I couldn’t possibly list them all. In fact, I was brainstorming ideas on a sticky note at work and completely ran out of space on the front and back. Tiny handwriting and all! So here is a little snapshot of a region of my happy land in the world of horror.

The Halloween Legacy:
Although I could just say I’m madly in love with the original Halloween itself, I’m also smitten for the parades of formulaic slashers that followed its lead. It may not have been the first slasher, but it is certainly the inspiration for the 80’s slasher prototype. Thank you John Carpenter and Debra Hill, thank you so much for blessing me with my favorite movie of all time and for providing the foundation to a sub-genre that has given me countless hours of enjoyment.
Ash’s One-Liners:
If I was really cool, I would incorporate one quote from Army of Darkness into my life each day. Perhaps that will be a new personal goal. Egomaniac co-worker claims, “My second home in Fiji is like totally awesome.” I say, “Yeah…and I’m a Chinese jet pilot.” Angry boss reminds me, “Learn your place. I’m the leader of this project!” I retort, “You ain’t leading but two things right now: Jack and shit…and Jack left town.” I snuggle up for a romantic night with my hubby, and I whisper into his ear, “Give me some sugar baby.”
Jason’s Iconography:
Jason Voorhees is a total badass. I love his look(s), his attitude, his childlike innocence mixed with rage, and his incredible ability to find tools of death in the middle of the woods. Whether it’s the Uber Jason of Jason X or the potato-sack-toting Jason of Part II, he can be bitchin’ or terrifying. Out of all the slashers, I feel the most sympathy for Jason. I constantly find myself cheering him on, instead of the victims. Michael is soulless and Freddy is a dick. Jason is just misunderstood.
The Blind Dude’s Death in Suspiria:
Holy moly with a side of guacamole! This death is incredibly well-executed and scary. I loved it so much, I included it in a paper about the use of scale and composition in Suspiria. Here is my expert from it: “The most dramatic display of scale, though, is when Daniel, the blind man with the seeing-eye dog, is killed. He is placed inside a large and empty courtyard, which is surrounded by enormous, coliseum-style edifices. A series of aerial and long shots are employed to further tilt the scale, making Daniel even more exposed and seemingly endangered. This scale also diverts attention away from Daniel’s dog, which is what actually kills him, to the buildings and potential threats that lurk within the vastness of the courtyard.”
Strange Murder Weapons:
I love “creative” deaths, many of which occur in slashers. For the supernatural side of things, The Omen has a few interesting kills, but the most bizarre is definitely the decapitation by a runaway pane of glass. The suddenness of it is so tragic, but it’s also quite funny to watch out of context. The gas-powered belt sander to the face from Hatchet also comes to mind; how sick and demented is that? But strangely comical. The cell phone shoved down the throat from See No Evil is also golden. And of course, you could look to the Final Destination or Saw films for countless peculiar deaths.
The Priest from Dead Alive:
The words, “I kick ass for the lord!” will forever be embedded into my brain as the go-to response for any religiously-affiliated individuals that knock at my door. A kung-fu priest that can kick evil's ass? ‘Nuff said. This movie pushed itself over the top way before the lawnmower scene. My only complaint is that he is not in the movie enough. If there is ever a sequel, perhaps we can conjure up a badass Rabbi who exclaims, “Shalom bitches!”


MARCH MADNESS: You know what really grinds my gears?

Did anyone catch that Family Guy reference? Anyway, last week for March Madness I talked about people that got pissed off and now, I’m going to talk about what makes me mad. All the nitpicky, irritating things of the horror world will be exposed…at least all the nitpicky, irritating things according to my outlook.
"This is good, but can we do more white trash?"

Rockabilly Rob’s Colorful Writing
It’s not Rob Zombie himself so much as it is the characters of his films (I am a fan of his music and loved seeing him live). However, in Zombie’s cinematic presentations, everyone has to spit F-bombs and crap STD’s. I mean good lord, where do all these miscreants come from? And how did they all assemble in one place without the world exploding? Even the “normal” people of his films aren’t “normal” for long. What the hell happened to Laurie in H2? Zombified…
"Why yes Clarice, I consider myself a fan of the polar, 
the French version of the thriller,
but don't mistake it for a horror film 
because then I'd have to eat you
and that may bring this into horror territory"

Thriller Schmiller
I can’t stand it when a horror film that is critically-respected or features prominent cast members suddenly becomes a “thriller” instead of a horror movie. In fact, I have heard film professors state that the difference between a horror movie and a thriller is its quality! Ugh! Really, I consider a thriller to be a softcore subgenre of horror for the most part, especially when the plots involve serial killers or supernatural elements. Perhaps this whole thriller thing is the reason they mistakenly said The Exorcist was the last horror film to be recognized at the Academy Awards. The Sixth Sense? Silence of the Lambs? Huh? You guys even showed these movies in your horror montage!!!

"Damn you filmmakers. Before the remake, 
the Friday the 13th series had integrity!"

Remake Haterade Drinkers
While it is unfortunate that Hollywood continues to remake instead of rethink of ideas, I don’t know why people get so angry about every single attempt to revamp a film or a franchise. Sometimes the original film could use some updating, especially when low budgets led to poor quality. Last House on the Left is a perfect example. Sometimes it’s just nice to see a different perspective from a talented filmmaker on a familiar idea, like with The Thing. Just like a cover song, sometimes they are better than the original. Plus, I’m happy that new generations are re-introduced to Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. Those series whored themselves out so much, who could possibly be upset about the remakes? I’m pretty sure the low point for these franchises has already been reached.

Face your fears of a world where everything is green.

Epileptic Cinematography and Editing
Have you ever watched a horror film and just wanted to scream at the filmmakers to “SLOW THE F DOWN!” Hold on a shot for more than 2 seconds and try not to shake the camera like you’re having a seizure. I’m not one to put on a pair of suspenders and complain about them MTV-style moving pictures, but damn, give my eyes a break. Watching anything made before 2000, you realize that there’s more to cinematography than shallow depth of field, handheld movements, and a cold color palette. And hey, you might even realize that an editor’s job isn’t to throw all the shots in a blender to concoct an uber-dynamic smoothie that really shouldn’t be called a smoothie because it’s not smooth at all…But it has all those flavors, like the different shot choices, and….this metaphor sucks. Sorry. The End.


MARCH MADNESS: Screw Anger Management

For this edition of March Madness,  I’m gonna’ talk about people that get mad…like really, really mad. When someone pisses them off, they don’t just sit there and feel sorry for themselves; they do something about it. Maybe their anger issues stem from traumatic experiences, perhaps they are motivated by revenge, or maybe they are just mad at the world. Here are some angry folks of horror that throw some great temper tantrums.
Jack Brooks (Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer)
Did you think this list would be made entirely of villains? If so, congratulations…you are completely wrong. Snarky comments aside, this hot-blooded dude is the most likeable plumber-turned-hero this side of Mario. Sprouting from childhood feelings of guilt over the death of his parents, Jack just gets mad from time to time. And you know what Mr. Psychiatrist guy? That’s why we like him. So step off (as I lunge forward aggressively).
Billy Chapman (Silent Night, Deadly Night)
While Jack Brooks became a monster-slaying hero despite witnessing his parents’ death at a young age, Billy experienced similar events only to become a very angry Santa Claus that…well, you know…kills people. “PUNISH!” he says, venting all the rage of his childhood trauma with each swing of the axe. Not only was Billy super mad, but “hordes of angry mothers” boycotted this movie, which makes it all the more appealing to sick and demented fans everywhere. ‘Tis the season!  
Tommy Jarvis (Friday the 13th:  A New Beginning)
Our third childhood-violent-trauma-survivor on the list! Poor little Tommy hacked up Jason real good in Part IV, but now he’s all pissy when he is released from the loony bin into a halfway house. Tommy’s not exactly crazy, but he’s not exactly stable either. He is the king of unprovoked wrath, like when he randomly kicks the shit out of a guy for scaring him with a mask at breakfast. An angry person has never been so awkward.
Jennifer Hills (I Spit on Your Grave)
The ultimate rape-revenge story driven by the intense anger of a single woman. Rape is no laughing matter boys, so you better think twice before scoping out that hot, leggy writer shacked up in the local cabin. When Jennifer is savagely raped, she definitely sulks, but it’s not long before her pissed-off gage peaks. She’s out for blood and she means it, using twisted methods to rid the world of wretched scum.
Prince Mamuwalde (Blacula)
This guy is said to be the figure of black anger and frustration, both in and outside the world of the film. Inside the movie, Mamulwade is pissed because he’s been enslaved with a monstrous curse. Confused and with little direction to aim his rage, he descends from a refined prince to a vicious creature of the night. In a social context, the movie is an expression of the black man’s angry struggle, as whites stripped them of their integrity through slavery and were seen as nothing more than animals to work the lands.

Thought I’d end on a serious note…so you can ponder the meaning of socio-political madness throughout the month of March. Nothing like slavery and oppression to get ya' thinkin'!


Horror can be fun!

In the past month or so, I’ve watched a fair share of goofy horror films that kept me smiling throughout their runtime. I have the most fun with horror movies that lack gravity—the ones that don’t have a pretentious bone in their filmic body. While a heavy, disturbing horror film is a wonderful treat, I’d like my primary diet to consist of light-hearted horror fan fare. Here’s a couple mini-reviews for some recent viewings that satisfy these needs.

Dead Snow (2009)
While some found the on-the-nose horror references to be annoying in this Norwegian Nazi-zombie film, I couldn’t help but fall in love with all of its silliness. Sure there are far too many unnatural plugs for films like The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, but hey, it’s Nazi zombies! Lighten up! Machine gun mounted to a snowmobile, entrails wrapping around trees, and chainsaw amputation? Sold.

Night of the Comet (1984)
When the guys over at All Things Horror were raving about this gem of a movie (well, mostly raving about Kelli Maroney), I knew I had to bump this up to a higher position on my Netflix queue. You couldn’t ask for a more perfectly 80’s sci-fi/horror/comedy than this! Trained in combat by their military father, two sisters kick ass in the post-apocalyptic fallout of a comet. I knew I loved this movie when Regina looked sooooo serious playing the arcade game, Tempest. And the fact that the original title for this film was intended to be Teenage Mutant Horror Comet Zombies says more than enough.
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)
I guess I have poor taste because a lot of you out in the horror blogosphere hated this movie. I, on the other hand, completely loved this movie. So many gross moments to make you laugh while cringing. So many teen dramas unraveling that you long for 90’s horror. So much bloody projectile vomit that it makes the ipecac scene from Family Guy look tame. Ti West’s style is all over this one, even if the studio tampered with his ending and final cut of the film. I’m still a fan!


MARCH MADNESS: My Favorite Psychos

It’s been too long since I’ve done a themed month and I think March is the right time to start it up again. I’ll be preparing several posts with a “madness” theme. The first is all about my favorite filmic nutcases. I’m talking about the kind of crazies that are so delusional, they exist in their own fabricated world where everything is turned upside down. This will not include calculated sociopaths, evil figures, supernaturally-influenced people, or thrill-killers. Instead, I want to shine light on true madness—the lunatics with motives that don’t make any sense, the weirdos who have no idea who they are, and the psychos who really make your stomach churn.

Norman Bates – Psycho
Well duh. You knew he was going to be in here, didn’t you? He flat-out says, “We all go a little mad sometimes.” And perhaps there is no more famous a person who goes mad than the cute, quiet Mr. Bates. Maybe it’s the odd taxidermy habit, or the obsessive peeping, or…oh I know what it is: the fact that he dresses up like mommy dearest and stabs his love interest countless times—all while maintaining two separate identities who fully believe in the existence of the other. Alfred Hitchcock could not have titled the film any better.
Patrick Bateman – American Psycho
Is there a coincidence between this selection and the previous? Bates…Bateman. Psycho…American Psy—Oh, I get it! By far the most attractive loony on the list, Patrick Bateman is all kinds of crazy. He’s so convinced of his own world that not even the audience knows what was real and what was not by the end of the film. Plus, he puts the term "egomaniac" into perspective.
Annie Wilkes – Misery
My legs still hurt after watching this movie…and that was a couple years ago! Annie, simple in a country sort of way, is one of the most brutal psychopaths to ever hit the screen. Isolated and lonely, she has constructed a new reality where the fictitious world of her favorite book series is most important. She will do anything to keep her literary characters safe, even if it means torturing the beloved author of the words she adores.
Pamela Voorhees – Friday the 13th
Talk about motives that make little sense. Mrs. Voorhees is so caught up in a murderous revenge plot that she continues to re-enact the killing of camp counselors over and over again (despite them not having any real connection to the death of poor Jason). We are treated to a creepy display of insanity, as she calls out, “Kill her mommy” as if she were her son. This cookoo gives Bates a run for his money.
Agnes White and Peter Evans – Bug
While I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of the film, it boasts some truly crazy performances. The slow decent into paranoid delusions is absolutely convincing. Evans’ paranoia becomes contagious, spreading the madness over to White. Soon, they both believe microscopic bugs have been planted into their skin by the government. These crazies believe in their delusion so fiercely that they physically manifest evidence upon their skin to further influence themselves of their alternate reality.   


Dawning (Screener): Two parts Evil Dead to one part Signs

First of all, many thanks to Cortez from Planet of Terror and the film’s director, Gregg Holtgrewe, for sending the screener my way. It’s always a pleasure to help out a fellow filmmaker, plus it’s a nice change of pace to review films you know very little about. I hope the film continues to garner some attention and I wish the filmmakers the best of luck.

Now, for the review. Dawning was well-written, with great characters who all shared unique relationships to one another. The film stars a mismatched brother and sister, who are visiting their father and step-mother in a remote vacation cabin. The events turn toward the bizarre when the family dog is found wounded, only to turn stranger when a bloodied, crazed man appears at the cabin. The man is fearful of what is outside, but can’t explain what he has seen. The screenplay is composed well enough to keep the audience guessing, but giving enough information so that we are not left completely in the dark. Dawning really succeeds in making you want to know what’s going to happen next.

Most of the film takes place in a single location: the interior of the cabin. Much like The Evil Dead, it has an isolated feeling of insanity. You want to escape the cabin, but are afraid to see what’s lurking outside. I mentioned Signs in the subtitle of this post, because the film is heavily reliant on sound to cement the presence of unseen forces. Much like the way Signs orchestrated the alien intruder’s movements through footsteps on the porch, pounding on the roof, and clamoring outside, Dawning uses sound to indicate that something is indeed going on. Although it was a tad draining watching the same people mill around the same place, I was interested in the characters. The relationship between the father and son, and between the daughter and step-mother kept me engaged in their struggle. . For the most part, the family’s decisions are thoughtful and logical. However, at times, I wondered why certain things weren’t attempted sooner. It takes a long time before anyone tries to call for help with the phone, or before anyone tries to drive away in the vehicles.

One of the difficult aspects of the film is the pacing. I think the film loses some steam because a sense of urgency isn’t there. The characters don’t seem as desperate as they should. It isn’t until the third act that the characters actually start to seem panicked, which makes for a slow middle. Looking back, it is remarkable how few events are actually in the film. That is testament to the director and actors for keeping us interested, even if the plot is a bit tedious. With this slow burn, I was anticipating a big reveal or an exhilarating conclusion. I won’t give away the ending, but I must admit that I was disappointed. I felt like I had been held up high and dropped pretty hard, mostly because I had enjoyed everything that came before it so much.

Technically, the film is in pretty good shape. I was surprised by the cinematography, considering the modest budget and the amount of night exteriors. For people not familiar with filmmaking, night exteriors are probably the toughest and most expensive things to pull off on a low budget film. Kudos to the Dawning crew for that. I still see some places where shot choices and composition could have been improved, but it was never distracting. The editing was tight, even if the story wasn’t. The director has done a great job with the actors, making the piece a character-driven horror film, which is rare. Holtgrewe was also successful in creating a menacing, brooding tone, but as I said before, it needed some more urgency here and there.

Great work from some up-and-coming filmmakers. I’m hoping to see more films in the future! PS: That poster freaking rocks!


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