5.27.2010

Sometimes RL gets in the way of horror blogging

Sorry for the lame acronym, but hey, I'm a blogger. I can use self-referential humor aimed at my nerdiness. So, I've been sort of AFK for a while, and I will continue to be unfortunately. Why? Well, my husband just graduated from college last weekend and his family was visiting, so needless to say, I've been busy celebrating/hosting. Secondly, I'm leaving for Indonesia tomorrow (oh crap...already?) for my brother's wedding.

Long story short...see you in June! I'll be back with some posts and some comments on your awesome blogs! Who knows? Maybe in the spirit of my travels, I'll even review this:

5.16.2010

An Ode to the God of Metal



You probably heard the rumors first. Word quickly circulated that Ronnie James Dio was battling for life over the weekend, as stomach cancer had him bed-ridden. Unfortunately, the rumors of the 67-year-old legend's death turned out to be true on Sunday. And the world of metal wept.

Ronnie James Dio's voice has been with me for a long time. Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and indeed the songs of Dio's solo career. My father was in love with "Man on a Silver Mountain." Every time my family ventured on long trips, I would hear Dio belting those lyrics so loud that the car speakers buzzed with tension. One of my older brother's first CD's was the Black Sabbath album "Heaven and Hell." Laying on the carpet in his room, with the album art sitting in front of me, I recall myself trying to understand the image of angels smoking cigarettes--their halos licked by snake-like smoke. Several years later, I would have the chance to see Dio and crew rocking these songs live. In fact, I got to see them twice. For my second concert experience, you can click here to read the write-up I did last August. 

Looking back on the post I wrote after seeing them live, it made me a little sad, especially this part: "Well, if these guys are still around and if I finally get a chance to make this rock opera, vampire slaying epic, it will be awesome I promise." You see, I've always wanted to make a rock opera with Dio as the lead vampire slayer...However, I also feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to see Dio perform not once but twice. 

I'm sure that Ronnie knows he will be missed by his fans around the world. He has always been an utmost gentleman on and off the stage--someone who genuinely appreciates his fans and someone who has always maintained class in an industry that has very little of it. His legacy as one of the greatest artists of metal will surely be passed on from generation to generation.

5.12.2010

Stanley (1972): Snakes in a pool




When I read the synopsis for Stanley, I was immediately intrigued. Seminole Indian Tim, who also happens to be a ‘Nam vet, has isolated himself from society with only the accompaniment of his pet snakes. When local white men begin hunting the snakes to fashion their skin into belts, Tim teaches them a lesson with the help of his best-friend, Stanley...and Stanley is a rattlesnake. This being the early Seventies, I was anticipating naturalist themes and plenty of social commentary. Stanley certainly delivers on those aspects, as well as a tubular soundtrack and surprisingly good cinematography.
Stanley, a light-hearted comedy! Just kidding.

The most striking feature of Stanley is the lead’s incredible snake handling skills. While plenty of films have disturbed me, I still don’t think I’ve never been more uncomfortable watching something. Seeing Tim cuddle with the rattlesnakes as if they were kittens is stomach-churning. The filmmakers wisely utilize the human’s seemingly innate fear of snakes, as well as religious significance, as a theme throughout. It confronts common mistakes about snakes being slimy or cold, or even evil—human beings are shown as being much more capable of committing evil acts.
Is that a rattler or are you just happy to see me?

I don’t intend to make this review sound so serious, but hey, it was the seventies…And so that also means some quirky scenes to keep you entertained, right? Well Stanley has its fair share of oddities; in fact, I was never bored at any point during the film. Plenty of strange dialogue and kooky characters keep things interesting, even though there is not nearly enough snake killing if you ask me. A random, coke-snorting hippy shows up with awesome circus pants and those round, blue Lennon sunglasses. The best is the bizarre relationship to film’s main baddie and his teenage daughter. She is apparently somewhat of a *cough*tramp*cough*, but since it’s the seventies, you may read that as “liberated woman.” Her daddy, just so we know is really bad, strokes her legs and compliments her looks….okay…Incest aside, the bad guy is pretty goofy. He checks himself out in the mirror, as he lifts the smallest weights I’ve ever seen, and generally sort of meanders around his pool in almost every scene.
The secret to being the best bad guy ever.
 Oh and the pool…

One of the best moments is when Tim fills the douche’s pool up with snakes. Of course, because he is so busy checking himself out in the mirror and is apparently quite groggy before his morning swim, he does not notice before he dives into the pool. But!!! There is a glorious freeze frame on his face upon the moment of realization that he is about to fall into a venomous trap:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….HA.

Ahem…Moving on, there are plenty of other great moments to make Stanley worth a watch. The hippy music montages (done better than they were in Last House—sorry Wes!) and retro cinematography make me long to have lived in the seventies. One shot in particular of Tim throwing snakes on top of people in bed (which is one of the worst deaths I can possibly imagine) is quite good. The low angle on Tim’s dark silhouette is terrific, as we see snakes falling toward the camera in slow motion. However, this is a grindhousey film after all, and so the shot is milked a bit too much, as they must have taken 15 shots and cross-dissolved them one after the other. Speaking of milking shots, the entire movie feels like it’s a bit stretched out, but I think that speaks more to the time period than it does to the actual film.

We’re so impatient with movies now, it was nice to take a break and watch Stanley, which is not boring, but certainly moves along at its own pace. If you’re in the mood for it, I highly recommend checking this one out, especially if you’re a fan of snakes! 

5.04.2010

Going Green: Sustainability and Ecology in Troll 2

“Are you crazy, boy?” the Drugstore Owner asks, “We're vegetarians here in Nilbog.” The rhetorical question posed by the Nilbog resident summarizes the subtle irony of Troll 2’s green message. Presenting the omnivorous (if carnivorous is too strong) Waits family as the protagonists and juxtaposing them against the seemingly “crazy” vegetarians of Nilbog, director Claudio Fragasso forces us to pose the aforementioned quote upon ourselves—“Are we crazy?” In a land where mechanized methods of meat production and continual environmental degradation dominate human behavior, it is homosapiens (not goblins) that live in decadent madness as they feast upon the earth’s resources. Fragasso’s foil of human versus goblin illustrates the irony of human interference in natural ecosystems. Troll 2’s critical messages for a world on the brink of eco-disaster have only become more urgently relevant since its 1990 release.

The myth of human dominance is subverted by the presence of goblin creatures in Fragasso’s film. The homosapien-oriented assertions that the earth’s resources are subservient to human life and that indeed, the human is that from which all green life came are challenged by Nilbog. In this old-fashioned land, Goblins once roamed the earth before the human creature. Surely they gamboled among lush forests, as their sustainable lifestyles supported such ecosystems. However, human destruction was imminent and it was not long before their way of life was threatened. The goblins obviously represent a metaphor for the endangered species—a creature forced to the edge of extinction; now coerced into tiny communities where assimilation and coexistence are no longer options. Just as humans encroached upon the untamed wilderness, the Wait family invades the quiet town of Nilbog, expecting their ungreen standards of consumption to be met. Can we blame the wolf for its hostility against human encroachment? Certainly not. However, this blame is thrust fully upon the goblins of Nilbog via the accusations of the Waits family, primarily Joshua. Fragasso expertly portrays this incongruity with satire, demonizing the goblins through the perspective of Joshua only to point out the absurdity of human ignorance. The exaggerated tone of Troll 2 is perhaps most prominent when Joshua places his hands upon the Creedence’s Stonehenge, urging his family to do the same because “only good” can defeat the goblins. The filmmakers’ sardonic message is expertly communicated through Joshua’s over-the-top performance. Certainly, it is not the humans that are good here because they are the encroachers after all.

As the denizens of Nilbog gather for a sermon, their spiritual leader reminds them of the ethos of the vegetarian. The sermon recalls the disgust upon consuming bloody chunks of meat, the stinking of the flesh, and the moral depravity of the carnivore. As human viewers, their behavior seems odd, but this is entirely the purpose behind such a scene. Why should it seem odd? Vegetarianism was one of the first rules of Eden. In fact, one may go as far as to suggest Nilbog as Edenic symbolism—a place of natural beauty, where human sin (not goblin sin) leads to devastation. By turning the table and forcing viewers to question their own dietary mores, Fragasso’s empathetic style is quite progressive. The human disgust for the goblin’s vegetarian diet is only matched by the goblin’s disgust for the human’s meat-centralized diet. Alas, the distinction between these diets represents the major theme of Troll 2.  

The human-goblin dichotomy allows modern watchers to easily find an eco-friendly reading of Troll 2. When comparing the meat diet to the plant diet, it is clear that the eating habits of the goblins are far more sustainable than the homosapien’s. Not only is the goblin food nutritionally superior, but it has far less impact on earthly creatures. However, because humans have invaded Nilbog, the point diverges from this theme of impact only slightly. The goblins must convert the humans into plants for their own sustenance. While this clearly has a negative effect on the human animal, it is a poignant attempt to deconstruct the mythos of the food chain hierarchy. Troll 2 displays an egalitarian cycle of life, where plant, human, and goblin may be considered equal. More complexly, the act of human conversion into flora is a metaphor for the human’s return to Eden, as they are quite literally absorbed into the fruits of their God’s earth.

Fusing religious imagery into his green sentiments, Claudio Fragasso criticizes the Christian moral majority with his “progressive” thesis on sustainability. In fact, Fragasso is so forceful with his symbolism that it is no wonder the film has been pushed aside by mainstream America as “too extreme.” Failing to understand the complexities and irony of the story’s point of view, some, on the other hand, incorrectly assert that Troll 2 is a thoughtless film made for a quick buck. Both attacks of Fragasso’s film are mistaken. Perhaps the filmmakers anticipated this response when they wrote Arnold’s famous line, “They’re eating her…and then they’re going to eat me…OH MY GOOOOOD!” The human species has already eaten “her” (the earth) and now they’re going to eat “me” (the filmmaker) for pointing out such careless destruction. We can only hope that someday Troll 2 will be recognized as the preeminent eco-friendly film it deserves to be labeled as.

5.01.2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010): At least the trailer editors were awesome


SPOILER FREE!

I’ve never been a Freddy fanatic. I adore Freddy and I love some of the Nightmare movies, but I’ll take Michael or Jason any day over Freddy. As I’ve said before, if any series exploited itself to make a buck it’s the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. So when a remake comes about, I’m not one to throw a hissy fit about it. In fact, I was genuinely interested to see a re-imagining of Freddy, who I don’t believe has ever been captured to his full potential. The scene in the original film when Tina crawls around the ceiling in her own blood has never been equaled—not in subsequent scenes in Craven’s film, nor in the sequels. I was glad to see Freddy being taken seriously again (or at least that’s what I thought) and I was hoping for a dark, menacing Freddy as opposed to the quippy, sarcastic Freddy (even though I do love that Freddy). The only thing Platinum Dunes provided was a well-cut trailer that raised false hopes. As a side note, I loved the Friday the 13th remake and genuinely enjoyed the TCM remakes as well.  This, however, suffers from the most severe case of “blah” I’ve ever seen.
Freddy's got mad sparklers this time.

Remake, as opposed to re-imagining, is the ideal word for NOES. It is simply a rehashing of iconic visuals and major plot points, while tossing in the occasional “new” idea that only works half of the time. Tina’s death, as well as the boyfriend being blamed and put in jail, is redone less effectively. Familiar images, like the glove in the bathtub between Nancy’s legs, the bodybag in the hallway, and Freddy’s face pushing through the bedroom wall as if it were elastic, are tossed in as if they were part of a checklist. So what’s different about the remake? The “micronap” is introduced, as well as some trickery with Freddy’s past and his relationship to the teenagers of Elm Street.
The world's clearest body bag.

Micronaps occur when the brain shuts off to sleep for small instances and is fluttering between the dream world and reality, even though a person could be walking around. This produced some cool scenes, where the characters would literally be transformed in and out of dreams between seconds. The line between the world of dreams and reality is quite transient. Some didn’t like this, but I personally found the film much more interesting when the micronaps started occurring. Granted, all of the scares and all of the dreams still could have been executed more effectively and more frighteningly. The bizarre dream logic is missing. Freddy merely shows up and starts slashing. They are grounded in realism a bit too much for my taste. I’m not asking for Freddy to morph into a giant worm and start munching on teenagers, but a dark rendition of common nightmare phenomena would have been appreciated.
At least her hair always looks good.

My greatest complaint is simply how boring the film is. I wasn’t the least bit engaged until over half way into the movie. In part, it’s because the characters are dull and uninteresting. Everyone is walking around sleep-deprived, with sunken eyes and lethargic movements. It would have been nice to see these kids before they became insomniacs, because it makes for a lackluster film to have the entire cast ambling about like snails. The other issue is the boring set pieces. Everything that isn’t a dark attic or a bedroom is basically borrowed from the original film, so there’s nothing to pull us in. The jump scares are pathetically impotent. I think I saw people jump once, despite a god awful number of attempts to inspire mini-heart attacks in the audience.
1,2...Freddy's silhouette is comin' for you.

The only way I can really describe this movie is “blah.” Really, there is no better word for it. It’s not excruciatingly terrible, but it’s not fun, not scary, and not even funny. Freddy’s attempts at being scary are laughable, as he looks like a Ninja Turtle covered in pizza. And his voice? It sounds like someone hit the turbo bass. Thanks for the subtlety. His attempts at being comical feel forced and unfunny because 90% of the time they borrowed the line from other Nightmare films. And, what’s worse, is they often don’t make sense in the context of the film. It’s frustrating to watch as a fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street, or even as a casual moviegoer because it brings nothing new to the plate, while putting you to sleep at the dinner table.

Want to know my thoughts on the other Nightmare films? Check out my retrospective here.
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